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Derrick Williams, as weight of being No. 2 pick wanes, thriving with Knicks

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What if Derrick Williams never faced the burden of being the No. 2 overall pick?

He considers that question often.

Would he have developed better on a winner picking lower in the 2011 draft? Would he be on his third team in five years? Would he have thrived without enormous expectations?

The low point came in his second year with the Timberwolves, a team headed toward its eighth straight losing season. That November, he fell out of the rotation.

“When you have your teammates asking you, ‘Why aren’t your playing?’ or ‘Why didn’t you play tonight?’ or ‘Why didn’t you play this week?'” Williams said, “it takes a toll on you, man.”

Minnesota traded Williams to the Kings early in his third season. He thought he’d get a fresh start in Sacramento, and for a while, the results looked promising. But the Kings had three head coaches last season, which troubled Williams.

“I wanted to get out of that environment,” Williams said

Finally, Williams got his chance last summer.

After being locked into the NBA’s rookie-scale system for four years, he could pick his team. He bet on himself, signing a two-year, nearly $10 million contract with a player option with the Knicks after strongly considering the Mavericks and Wizards. If anything, the price tag seemed too high given his lackluster play his first four seasons.

But Williams is rewarding Phil Jackson’s faith with the best season of his career. A couple small tweaks in his approach have moved Williams’ production into the positive side of the ledger.

“There’s a reason why I went so high in the draft,” Williams said. “Like I said, this league is about opportunity, situation and timing – those three things right there. And if you have good opportunity, situation is right, and the time is right on point, you can’t be stopped.”

Williams knows plenty about those factors going wrong.

He was the consensus No. 2 prospect behind Kyrie Irving in 2011, no matter how the lottery shook out. Williams had just played an awesome sophomore season at Arizona, and the next tier of prospects came with major drawbacks. Though he was fairly locked into the second slot, Williams was probably closer to No. 1 than No. 3.

The Timberwolves drew the second pick, and Williams’ poor fit immediately became apparent. They were already overloaded at forward with Kevin Love, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Anthony Tolliver and Anthony Randolph. But David Kahn, reasonably with the information available, deemed Williams too valuable to pass up. Kahn just never modified the roster to help Williams (or anyone, really) shine.

Williams quickly diagnosed his situation and, given his draft status, realized his fundamental problem in Minnesota.

“What they expected,” Williams said, “they weren’t going to get.”

The logjam in Sacramento wasn’t nearly as large, but the Kings traded for Rudy Gay a couple weeks after acquiring Williams. It was downhill for Williams from there.

Worst of all, Williams let his detractors dictate his play.

He heard critics questioning his shooting ability. So, he tried to prove them wrong by hunting outside shots.

Then, he heard them questioning his driving ability. So, he relentlessly attacked the rim.

Nothing came in the flow. Everything was forced.

But Williams is letting the game come to him now, and it shows in his efficiency.

Most of Williams’ numbers resemble prior seasons. He’s not shooting better inside or outside the arc. He’s not rebounding better. His defensive metrics remain poor.

Williams improvement can be chalked up entirely to two areas: free throws and passing, and it’s mostly free throws.

By reacting to defenders rather than critics, Williams has excelled at inducing contact. He has always drawn fouls well, but he has reached a whole new level this season.

Williams’ 10.0 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions – which ranks 12th in the NBA (minimum: 400 minutes) – are by far a career high:

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Williams is making those trips to the line count.

In Minnesota, they called him “1-for-2,” because it seemed like he always split at the line. The nickname even carried over to Sacramento.

That didn’t sit well with Williams, who said he focused on free throws this offseason.

The result: Williams is making a career-high 75.2% of his free throws this season:

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Williams’ comfort with the ball in his hands has also helped him develop a passing game that was non-existent prior. His driving ability opens passing lanes, and Williams is taking advantage at a reasonable rate.

His assist percentage (blue) is a career high, his turnover percentage (orange) a career low. And for the first time, the latter tops the former:

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As much as this is a feel-good season for Williams, New York isn’t taking full advantage of his capabilities.

The slow-paced Knicks, bent on running the triangle in the halfcourt, score the fewest fastbreak points per game in the NBA. They don’t have many players who can get out and run with Williams, so at times, it seems like he runs a one-man fastbreak.

Despite his limited role (17.2 minutes per game), Williams has scored 19.0% of New York’s fastbreak points.

Here are the 48 players who’ve scored at least 15% of their team’s fastbreak points, Williams marked with a  Knicks logo. As you can see,  he’s a huge outlier with his playing time:

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Player Team Percentage of team’s fastbreak points Minutes per game
James Harden HOU 30.5% 38.0
Kyle Lowry TOR 33.8% 37.3
Jimmy Butler CHI 21.3% 37.1
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope DET 26.8% 36.7
Khris Middleton MIL 17.9% 36.4
DeMar DeRozan TOR 16.1% 36.2
John Wall WAS 26.5% 36.1
Gordon Hayward UTA 28.9% 36.1
Brandon Knight PHX 15.6% 36.0
Kevin Durant OKC 23.6% 35.9
Kemba Walker CHA 26.4% 35.9
Damian Lillard POR 18.3% 35.9
LeBron James CLE 41.6% 35.5
Paul George IND 25.0% 35.3
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 28.0% 35.2
Andrew Wiggins MIN 19.6% 35.1
C.J. McCollum POR 18.5% 34.8
Russell Westbrook OKC 36.6% 34.5
Monta Ellis IND 16.5% 34.3
Stephen Curry GSW 28.5% 34.0
Rudy Gay SAC 15.6% 33.8
Avery Bradley BOS 19.7% 33.6
Klay Thompson GSW 18.6% 33.2
Chris Paul LAC 16.0% 33.0
Thaddeus Young BKN 17.1% 33.0
Goran Dragic MIA 23.8% 33.0
Victor Oladipo ORL 20.3% 32.9
Kawhi Leonard SAS 23.7% 32.7
Isaiah Thomas BOS 32.3% 32.5
Jordan Clarkson LAL 15.7% 32.2
Evan Fournier ORL 17.5% 32.1
Gary Harris DEN 18.2% 32.1
Derrick Rose CHI 15.8% 31.7
Jabari Parker MIL 16.1% 31.3
Dwyane Wade MIA 20.3% 30.6
Darren Collison SAC 21.6% 29.6
Chandler Parsons DAL 16.7% 29.5
Will Barton DEN 24.2% 28.7
Lou Williams LAL 17.2% 28.5
Jeff Teague ATL 16.2% 28.3
Matt Barnes MEM 15.5% 28.3
D'Angelo Russell LAL 16.3% 27.6
Kent Bazemore ATL 16.5% 27.6
Zach LaVine MIN 25.0% 27.6
Devin Booker PHX 18.2% 27.1
Bojan Bogdanovic BKN 18.7% 26.7
Langston Galloway NYK 18.1% 24.5
Derrick Williams NYK 19.0% 17.2

The above list is littered with impact players, in part because, they play so much, they’re bound to score in transition – but also in part because players athletic enough to excel on fastbreaks tend to do other things well, too.

The prospect of Williams rounding out his game – refining his shooting stroke, using his explosiveness to defend and rebound better – should intrigue teams. He’s just 24.

Until this season, Williams had been a drag on his teams, who were hoping playing him would pay off in the long run. It’s much easier to bet on a player’s upside when he’s contributing positively in the interim.

Williams wouldn’t say whether he’ll exercise his $4,598,000 player option, but it seems likely he’ll opt out to take advantage of the salary cap skyrocketing. I wouldn’t be surprised if his salary doubles.

The risk Williams took with a one-and-one contract is on the verge of paying off. He says he never fretted about the risk of bypassing a long-term deal. Instead, his primary goal for the season was rehabbing his reputation.

“I’m not necessarily worried about, I wouldn’t say, money situations or injuries or things like that. I think, if you just enjoy the game, things happen for a reason, man. Injuries happen,” Williams said before his tone changed ever so slightly. “Playing well happens.”

Markelle Fultz’s steal, slam secures Orlando win against Washington (VIDEO)

Associated Press
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Markelle Fultz is fitting in nicely with the Orlando Magic.

The former No. 1 overall pick had a career-high 19 points and the deciding defensive play in a 125-121 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points and 17 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 25 points and nine assists, but the Magic nearly squandered an 18-point fourth quarter lead before Fultz stopped Washington’s rally.

Fultz made all six shots from the field in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers, and finished 8 for 10 from the field. However, it was his defensive play that decided the game.

With Orlando leading 119-116, Fultz stole a pass and was fouled as he dunked the ball with 36.1 seconds left. His free throw finished the 3-point play and gave Orlando a six-point cushion that stood up for the team’s fourth win in its last five games.

“That was definitely fun,” said Fultz, who was drafted No. 1 by Philadelphia 76ers in 2017 before being traded to Orlando midway through last season. “You live for moments like that when the game is on the line and you’re out competing to see what everybody is made of. I love it that I got a chance to make a big-time play and I finished it off.”

Orlando needed it to withstand a couple of fourth-quarter rallies by Washington and its 3-point shooting team. The Wizards made 10 of 15 3-pointers in the final period and scored 44 points, but couldn’t play enough defense to overtake Orlando.

Bradley Beal scored 34 points and had eight assists for Washington, which absorbed its fourth loss in five games. The Wizards got 21 points from C.J. Miles and 15 from Davis Bertans.

“We are 10 games in (to the season) now so we have to dial back the amount of excuses we have,” Beal said. “We compete hard enough to win every game. We are top five on offense, so we know that’s not the problem. We just have to get stops.”

 

Sixers rout Cavaliers 114-95 behind 12-of-14 shooting night from Tobias Harris

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Tobias Harris scored 27 points, Joel Embiid had 14 and the Philadelphia 76ers routed the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-95 on Sunday.

Cleveland nearly pulled off an upset in Philadelphia on Tuesday before falling 98-97, but the 76ers ended quickly ended any hope of a repeat.

Philadelphia went ahead midway through the first quarter and steadily built the lead, shooting 67% in the half. The lead reached 75-44 early in the third quarter.

Harris was 12 of 14 from the field, missing only one of 12 2-point attempts. Ben Simmons had 10 points and 11 assists, and the 76ers had six players score in double figures.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love took a hard fall after being flattened by Furkan Korkmaz while shooting in the lane in the first quarter. Love got up after being on the floor for a couple of moments and gave the thumbs-up sign to the crowd, remaining in the game.

Love scored 12 points in 25 minutes. Collin Sexton had 17 points for Cleveland, which has lost three straight and opened a stretch of five games in seven days.

The Cavaliers were ahead of the 76ers by five points late in Tuesday’s game, but couldn’t hold the lead. Love missed an open 3-pointer on the final possession.

Philadelphia shredded Cleveland’s defense this time with 33 assists on 46 baskets. The 76ers followed an 11-0 run with a 14-3 spurt to take a 60-31 lead on Harris’ dunk with four minutes to play in the second quarter.

Philadelphia had dropped five of seven going into the game, including consecutive losses in Orlando and Oklahoma City, but finished its road trip on a high note.

Marcus Smart’s potential game-winner sits on rim, rolls off, gives Kings win

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Boston came in on a 10-game winning streak where they had played well on both ends of the court, but they also got some lucky rolls of the basketball.

Not Sunday.

With Boston down one, Marcus Smart put up a floater as time expired in Sacramento, it looked like the shot would fall, and…

Give the Kings credit, at a rough start they have gone 5-2 in November, and that despite injuries to Marvin Bagley Jr. and De'Aaron Fox. Buddy Hield had 35 points to lead the Kings, including going 7-of-12 from three.

The Celtics had a balanced attack with six players in double figures, but their offense was not as sharp as it has been. This was the first game it looked like they missed Gordon Hayward, who is out with a fractured hand.

Report: Last summer the Lakers, among others, were hoping Suns would buy out Aron Baynes

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Aron Baynes has been critical to the Suns racing out to a 7-4 start with the fourth-best net rating in the NBA. When Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games (after testing positive for a diuretic, a banned substance), Baynes has stepped up and been exactly what the Suns needed. He is scoring 15 points per game, shooting 46.5 percent from three (which is opening up the floor for guys like Devin Booker), and providing a big body defensive presence in the paint.

You can see why the Lakers and other teams were hoping Baynes would hit the market this summer. From Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Suns center Aron Baynes has emerged as a cornerstone piece for Phoenix early this season, supplying defense, leadership and, yes, shot-making. Phoenix acquired Baynes on draft night, and in the weeks to come contenders such as the Lakers hoped Baynes would reach a buyout with the Suns to hit the open market, sources said. Suns general manager James Jones and new head coach Monty Williams wanted Baynes — and are now receiving the rewards for the offseason move. Through 11 games, Baynes is averaging 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 46.8 percent 3-point shooting (two 3s made per game). Baynes will enter free agency next July, and as one team executive said, “He is positioning himself for well over $10 million per year.”

Smart move by Phoenix’s management to hold on to Baynes as an Ayton insurance policy (one they ended up needing). Plus, when trying to change a team’s culture (as Jones and Williams are working to do in Phoenix), you can’t have enough hardworking professionals in the locker room. Baynes brings that.

The Lakers thought they would have DeMarcus Cousins in the paint, but he tore his ACL over the summer. The tag team of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee has worked surprisingly well for Los Angeles to start the season.

In what will be a down free-agent market next summer, Baynes is going to be in demand. His payday is coming.