HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A mere three or four seasons ago, the best point guard in the NBA debate was divided two or three ways. You were either in the Chris Paul camp, the Deron Williams camp or the someone else camp.
But those first two guys, both products of the 2005 NBA Draft, were staples. You either loved the leadership, craftiness and feisty attitude that Paul brings to the party or the size, skill-set and shot-making component Williams possessed.
All that was before Derrick Rose slugged his way into the conversation, and won a MVP trophy that neither Paul nor Williams has. (Older mainstays like Steve Nash and Tony Parker belong in the conversation but are rarely included in conversations about the future of the position for obvious reasons.) It was also before guys like Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook began to emerge and grow. And since then, All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday have led the youth movement at the position.
Blasphemous as this seems to say out loud, Williams is in real danger of falling behind the pack. His possible demotion is due to a combination of injuries, uncharacteristic play and the fact that his contemporaries seem to be leading rising teams while he’s the bandleader of a mismatched Brooklyn bunch that can’t figure out exactly what they are.
No one is disputing that Williams is one of the best the league has seen during his time in the NBA. But in the what-have-you-done-lately world of the NBA, two seasons of substandard play, as judged by the lofty bar Williams set himself, makes the slippage hard to ignore.
Williams is sitting out the Nets’ final game before the All-Star break, the first he’ll watch from home since 2009, due to synovitis (an inflammation of ankle joint linings) in both of his ankles. He received PRP (platelet rich plasma) treatment on both ankles and it scheduled to return next week.
But take a look at his work in the 50 games he’s played this season — averaging 16.7 points, 7.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds while shooting just 41 percent from the floor. His scoring average is his lowest since his second season in the league, when he was with Utah, and his assists his lowest since his rookie season. In fact, he’s seen his assist numbers decrease in each of the past two seasons, a decline that followed four straight seasons where he averaged double-digit dimes.
Nets general manager Billy King still believes in his prized point guard, the man who immediately assumed face of the franchise status when King snatched him from the Jazz in a surprising trade deadline deal in 2011. He told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News as much, insisting that Williams can regain his status among the top two or three point guards in the league as soon he gets healthy:
“I’ve seen it,” the GM said. “He’s done it.”
King ratcheted up his defense of Williams when pressed further. .He admitted Williams has “not had the best year,” but attributed that mostly to injuries, exhaustion and a lack of explosiveness.
He compared the circumstances to Carmelo Anthony’s last season, when the Knicks forward struggled with an elbow injury and Mike D’Antoni’s system.
Amid speculation that Williams has also been slowed by weight-gain, King said the three-time All-Star is just one pound heavier than when he was dealt from Utah.
“You’re digging. You’re digging. And you’re asking valid questions, but (the inflammation to Williams’ ankles) is not a concern,” King said. “Kobe’s had the blood-platelet spinning on his knees, and guys have had it. It happens. So let’s not make this a bigger issue than it is. Let’s let him get through this, have a week off and get back to playing basketball. Let’s not put the dirt on him and say his career’s over at 28.
“I think the same questions were asked last year about Carmelo Anthony when they were struggling and people were writing him off, saying is he’s not the same player. I think he bounced back this year.”
… “Am I confident he’s going to get back to being Deron Williams? Yes.”
Williams needs all the believers he can get. Because the Nets, a team that continues to come up in trade talks with the Feb. 21 trade deadline looming, have to get things right as the postseason nears.
They’ve spent boatloads of cash and made a splashy entrance in their new arena in Brooklyn. The expectations rose with each and every headline they made in putting this team together. If they’re going to come anywhere close to realizing those expectations, they’ll need Williams to get back being the point guard we all saw during his Jazz days.