After starting his first seven games in a Sacramento Kings uniform, Derrick Williams moved to the bench. No feelings have been hurt. No egos have been bruised. Rather, the former No. 2 overall pick has been totally fine with his coach’s decision.
If you asked fans, who starts for their favorite team is a big deal. But Williams, who is still relatively new to Sacramento after arriving three weeks ago from a trade with Minnesota, believes otherwise.
“It’s just a different age,” Williams said recently to Cowbell Kingdom of today’s NBA. “I think it’s nothing to do with starting nowadays. I think a lot of people get caught up with the starters. But if you’re playing the same minutes as the starters, then it doesn’t matter.”
At its surface, moving Williams to the bench appears questionable. Why would head coach Michael Malone relegate one of his more talented players to the team’s second unit? But with the loss of Isaiah Thomas to the starting five paired with the recent acquisition of Rudy Gay, moving Williams to the bench makes plenty of sense.
The trade for Gay brought talent to the Kings, but also added another high-usage player to their starting lineup. With Gay, Thomas and starting center DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings are the only team in the NBA with three players ranked in the top 20 in usage rate this season. Playing a lower-usage player like Jason Thompson (16.7 percent) instead of Williams (17.1 percent) with the starting unit balances out the lineup.
The deal for Gay had implications on the reserves’ scoring production, as well. Before the move, Thomas was leading all Kings reserves with 17.8 points per game. Moving Williams and his offensive talents to the second unit was a decision Malone made to offset the loss of Thomas’ scoring punch off the bench.
“With Isaiah moving up to the starting unit, we need other guys that are gonna score the ball in the second unit so I really I think I can do that,” Williams said. “(Against Phoenix), I thought I played pretty well. I missed a few shots that I can normally make. But with the team that we have, I think it is good for me to come off the bench.”
Williams knows his role hasn’t diminished even though he’s now a reserve. According to the third-year forward, he was reassured by his head coach that he’ll continue to play critical minutes. In four games off the bench, Williams is currently averaging 25.3 minutes per contest.
“He told me I’m still gonna be playing 30-35 minutes a night,” Williams said of the message he received from his head coach about moving to the reserve unit. “And whether I’m starting or not, it doesn’t matter. Still gonna get out there and play and help this team win.”
Malone still plans, however, to play Williams major minutes with some of his starters. Though he’s played mostly small forward since arriving in Sacramento, the addition of Gay is allowing Williams a chance to play stretches at power forward, a position some observers believe he’s best suited.
Moving Williams to the bench also presents the former Arizona Wildcat with another opportunity. With a second unit that’s struggled to put points on the board, Williams has a chance to turn back the clock to his days in Tucson and be the go-to-guy for the Kings’ backups. At Arizona, Williams averaged 17.8 points per game on 58.6 percent shooting from the field over the course of two seasons.
“That’s what it feels like,” Williams said when asked if being the offensive focal point for the Kings’ reserve unit brings him back to his time in college. “Especially in the second unit, they moved me from the three and the four. (We can) make the defense rotate a lot.”
When it comes to down to it, Williams is saying all the right things. As a former No. 2 pick who hasn’t been given much time to shine in his career so far, Williams doesn’t sound overly concerned about getting his. Rather, the 22-year-old forward sees the bigger picture in the changing culture that is the Sacramento Kings.
“With the starting unit or coming off the bench, I’m ready to go,” Williams said. “Like I said, it’s not about who’s starting and who’s not gonna start. It’s about, I think nowadays, how many minutes you want to play. You know if I’m still out there, I have no problem coming off the bench. I think that’s what people need to understand. We have a lot of guys on this team that can actually play. I think everybody just has to find their role and once we do that, you’re alright.”