Kevin Love averages just 26 minutes a game, and the world is outraged. How could Kurt Rambis leave an elite rebounder and promising young big man on the bench for the pitiful Timberwolves? How dare he play Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, and Anthony Tolliver — all lesser talents than Love at this juncture — instead of the once and future rebounding king? It’s an injustice to Love, the Timberwolves, and anyone who is a fan of either.
Only, here’s the thing: if we’re trying to free Love from Rambis’ dungeon, we should probably be trying to jailbreak Lou Williams from his holding facility in Philly as well.
Williams, too, averages just 26 minutes per game, and if that persists, the world should, eventually, be outraged. So far this season (small sample size, rabblerabblerabble), Williams is averaging a remarkable 18 points per game on 10 shots, 46% shooting from the field, and just over four assists. He’s milking those 26-minute outings for all they’re worth, and if we extrapolate his numbers over 36, his scoring average jumps to 25. That per-minute scoring is 10th in the league among all players that average at least 20 minutes a night, which has Williams rubbing shoulders with a few guys named Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Martin. No big deal.
Lou’s situation is admittedly a bit different. For one, Doug Collins is new to the Sixers, and though a poster of incumbent point guard Jrue Holiday is probably on the wall in Collins’ bedroom (remember, he touted Holiday as a top-five PG this season), he’s still figuring out his roster. Given more familiarity with Williams, it’s conceivable that Lou’s minutes could resemble that of a starter by the end of the year. Additionally, Collins’ young tenure in Philly also means that there’s less of a precedent for injustice. This isn’t a long-standing issue, as is the case with Love.
It also doesn’t help that the two players are evaluated according to vastly different criteria. There are those who would hold Williams’ high scoring average against him, claiming point guard sacrosanct. How dare a player do what he does best! How dare Williams shoot efficiently from the floor and get to the line frequently in an otherwise distressing offense! He’s one of them combo guards, and apparently, we don’t serve their kind here.
Putting up gaudy scoring totals shouldn’t mean everything, but it still has to mean something. Perhaps we’ve come so far in our rejection of scoring averages as a definitive measure of a player’s worth that now we give them less justice than they deserve. Scoring still matters. Shot creation still matters. And Lou is making it all happen whether with the Sixers’ second unit and starters alike. Over the first five games of the season, Williams has been the Sixers’ top guard, but the possibility of him overtaking Jrue Holiday for the starting job — and the corresponding playing time benefits — remains slim. I know Lou has had his chance as the starter before, but is it so odd to think that a player could really start to come into his own at 24?
And for that matter, what did Holiday ever really do to take the job from Williams in the first place? Both are similarly effective playmakers, only Williams is able to better complement those abilities with his scoring. Both have an excellent handle, but Lou is able to use it to create shots for himself as well as his teammates. Both are defensive sieves, and don’t let Holiday enthusiasts, enamored by his height and long arms, convince you otherwise. Neither is a particularly effective defender, and both have plenty of work to do in their defensive development.
Jrue is 20, and a promising long-term prospect. Some may have been too willing to invest in Holiday’s stock late last season, but he’s athletic and talented. I’m just not sure we should write off Williams just yet, or naturally assume that Holiday will be the better player when all is said and done. We shouldn’t base too much off of a mere five games, and don’t misunderstand my intention: I’m making no call for immediate action. In fact, benching Holiday now could completely nuke his confidence and destroy any aptitude he’s shown up to this point. But should Williams’ numbers hold and Holiday’s hover around their currently decent but unremarkable level, switching their roles should be considered a legitimate possibility. I’m not sure it will be, but it should be.