With Avery Johnson fired, it is clear as day: Deron Williams’ career is at a crossroads.
Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets to bring stars to Brooklyn. Billy King responded: he got Deron Williams, a man who led 51, 54, 48, and 53 games per year over four years. Prokhorov had his star. Or does he? Deron is shooting under 40% and under 30% from 3 on a 3-10 team in December. This comes with a roster Deron handpicked: from his star backcourt mate in Joe Johnson to his bench full of guys sharing his agent, Jeff Schwartz.
So, what’s wrong with Deron Williams? Let’s take a look.
I. He’s Not Aggressive Enough
Check out the 57 second mark of this highlight from the Christmas day debacle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLZYIngt1UI
Deron just stands there dribbling, not making a play as the Celtics doubleteam and force a turnover. This has been a consistent problem for Deron all season. Way too many times, he shyly passes to Johnson or Lopez, or forces a contested jumper. He just has not looked to attack, looked to punish his man. Deron in Utah? That Deron went after his man night after night (check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TR6962saGV0). The eye test matches the numbers test: Ethan Strauss of Bleacher Report showed that Deron attempted over 40% of his shots at the rim in Utah, but the number dropped below 30% as a Net: he’s been settling for his jumper instead of attacking the rim. (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1431769-are-deron-williams-shooting-woes-a-temporary-slump-or-permanent-pattern).
Therein lies the problem. On too many nights, Deron just looks passive. So often, we hear about his size: how the Nets have an advantage over teams with smaller guards because Deron can post. But when do you ever see Deron in the post? Too often, you see him shooting an off-balance three pointer.
To me, Deron has looked a tad over his normal weight this season. If he is playing at too high of a weight, this would definitely lead to him making slower moves off the dribble, being that much more guardable and that much less elusive. Playing at too high of a weight makes it tougher to finish, changes your timing on your shot, and leads to slower reaction time on defense. Just look at these two pictures of Deron (Utah: http://www.blogcdn.com/www.aolnews.com/media/2010/04/d-will-best.jpg; Brooklyn: http://thebrooklyngame.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Deron-Williams-Brooklyn-Nets-image.jpeg). I believe Deron has added just a few pounds since is Utah days, and with his play slipping that is hard to ignore. Deron did struggle with his weight in college, and the city is renowned for its fine dining. (http://www.stack.com/2005/12/01/cutting-fat-with-deron-williams/). It will be interesting to see if other outlets report that he looks out of shape, or a step slow on the court, in the coming weeks as Avery’s firing is scrutinized.
So, Deron is not playing well, and it’s led to the Nets not playing well. How does PJ Carlesimo, or whoever coaches the Nets next, make that change? Here are 6 ideas for the Nets’ next hire.
A) Deron has to be more aggressive: If Deron plays more aggressively and attacks defenses, a lot of Brooklyn’s problems will go away and he will make teammates better, like he did in Utah. When Deron gets to the hoop by going after his man, he should be able to score on him using his size. When that leads to double teams, that opens up Brook for dumpoffs, Joe on the perimeter and Gerald for slashes to the basket. NBA defenses are TOUGH to score on when there is no movement and everything is an iso. The defense gets to set comfortably, waiting for your attack. That can change if Deron can get into the middle of defenses. It forces double teams, which forces rotations and decisions, which can throw a defense for a loop. Spreading out the defense and making it move leads to increased lanes and openings on the floor. That’s what good offenses do to a defense, and it all starts with Deron as the point guard and linchpin. More Deron drives also means less forces from the perimeter, with perimeter looks coming naturally when they are open. This would lead to a better shooting percentage on jumpers: less is more.
B) Playing at a Faster Pace: As Charles Barkley said on TNT last night, the Nets play at too slow of a pace. When Deron was in Utah, he devastated teams in the open floor. He was just so fast and big that he was hard to contain on a fast break. Deron has a break finisher in Wallace, a trailer for the 3 in Johnson, and a trailer for the rebound in Humphries or Evans. Time to start using the break more. Deron often chooses to pull the ball out on the limited occasions where he attempts to run the break, rather than jamming the ball down the opponent’s throat. Easy buckets are valuable, especially for a team struggling offensively.
C) Deron needs to believe he is the best point guard in the league. Take a look at the difference between these comments from Deron in 2010 and 2012.
-2010: “I think I’m the best point guard in the league. No reason. I just think I’m the best.”
-2012: “I just want to win. I don’t care where I’m ranked among point guards. I’m not here to do any point guard battles this year. There’s no 1-on-1 tournaments for point guards. I just want to win.”
Deron’s gone from saying he’s the top point guard to saying the debate does not matter, and with his level of play has dropped as his boasting has dropped. Deron needs to get back to having the attitude that he is the league’s best point guard, and that he has to make this clear to his opponent every night. He was on a mission in Utah to get people to think he was better than CP3, and it showed in his play. He needs that sense of purpose back, and perhaps taking stock in where he stands on the point guard latter will help bring it back.
D) Better Defense: Deron needs to start playing better defense on the perimeter. Brook and whoever plays the 4 are not going to dominate on the interior, so the Nets need a strong perimeter defense to be effective defensively and that starts up top. Deron has not provided that: on many nights his man has been the guy lighting the Nets up for a big game. Just as an example, look how wide open he left Mo Williams on this three at the 1:20 mark, which put Utah in front for good in their win over the Nets in Brooklyn earlier this month: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-fgIQiEmH0.
E) A trade for a better 4 man to run the pick and roll with Deron: way too often in Net games, Deron runs pick and roll with Humphries or Evans. Neither is a shooter or interior scorer, so it leads to Deron facing constant doubleteams. The defense knows: we just have to stop Deron, because the screener can’t hurt us, so Deron faces a doubleteam. In Utah, that was Boozer or Millsap setting the screen, and it just makes the play that much more effective. The defense has to worry: Deron can beat me with the drive or shot, Boozer can also beat me with a shot or dive to the rim. That makes the pick and roll tough to defend, or drags in a third defender to open up the floor even more. That does not happen when a non scorer sets the pick: the player essentially gets ignored. Some wonder why the Nets do not run more pick and roll, and this could be why.
F) Getting Deron a 3 point shooter to space the floor: The Nets slide has featured another common theme. The team has little 3 point shooting, so teams pack the paint and make it tough to score in there, knowing they won’t be burned outside. This reduces Deron’s effectiveness getting to the rim, and helps explain why Avery has complained repeatedly about the Nets missing shots in the paint. When defenses load up on the paint it’s tough to beat your man, get there, and score. Whether it means playing Mirza more, or bringing in a shooter, the Nets need to improve from behind the arc to help open up the paint for Deron to attack.
When the Nets traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter for Deron Williams in 2011, the goal was to bring a star to Brooklyn. The king of the world, as Prokhorov said his first star in Brooklyn would be. (http://www.cnbc.com/id/41735800/Nets_Owner_Mikhail_Prokhorov_Says_Nets_Will_Win_Title_In_Next_Four_Seasons). Things haven’t worked out, so Prokorov blamed Avery and sacked him. And so it’s time, Deron, to start playing like king of the world. Or at least king of the point guard position: the guy you said you were in Utah. Otherwise, you’ll be sacked too.