It’s been a whirlwind season for Derrick Williams. The former second overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft found new life after a trade sent him to Sacramento from Minnesota on Nov. 26. After two-plus tumultuous seasons as a member of the Timberwolves, everything looked like it was falling into place for Williams with the Kings.
In his first seven games with Sacramento, all as a starter, Williams averaged 12.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game. His athleticism was a breath of fresh air for a team that lacked a high flyer. For a moment, he looked like the Kings’ long-term answer at the small forward position.
But nothing lasts forever in the NBA. Just seven games into Williams’ tenure with the Kings, general manager Pete D’Alessandro pulled off a blockbuster seven-man deal that brought Rudy Gay to Sacramento.
Williams is now back on the bench and struggling to find his way.
“Derrick has probably been affected the most with Rudy coming,” coach Michael Malone said before Thursday’s game.
“It’s been a little tough on Derrick,” Malone added. “But I know he’s going to keep on competing and playing hard for us.”
Malone is right about the effect the trade has had on Williams. In 11 games since the swap, Williams is averaging just 6.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 22.7 minutes off the Kings’ bench. His shooting percentage has dropped from 53 percent with the first team to 41 percent with the second unit.
While he has struggled, Williams has taken the transition in stride. He understands who Gay is and what he brings to the team.
“Obviously, with a trade for a player like Rudy, he’s a great player in this league,” Williams said. “He’s a proven scorer.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Williams’ transition to the bench has been a rough one. The entire second unit has had difficulty finding a rhythm and it has hurt the Kings in numerous games.
“It’s a little hard to adjust right now, just because we’re all still trying to find our way right now,” Williams said. “It’s not just me.”
For Williams, the adjustment may have more to do with the players he is playing with than something specific he is doing wrong. As a reserve, Williams is playing with two players who have made their names as scorers, not passers. While Jimmer Fredette has some passing ability, he is not a natural point guard and neither is veteran Marcus Thornton.
“It’s nothing against those guys,” Williams said of Fredette and Thornton. “It’s how they got into the league. I’ve played with Ricky (Rubio) and with Greivis (Vasquez) when I got here, just more pass-first guards. You just have to try and find different shots.”
As a young player, Williams needs help to get open looks. He doesn’t have a refined post game yet. His jumper is inconsistent and he has not mastered the art of the corner 3-pointer. He loves to run and slash, but he isn’t an isolation player who can consistently create his own shot.
After his initial success with Sacramento, Williams’ confidence appears to be waning. He is hesitant to take open looks. And he looks like he is trying too hard to fit in on a unit that needs someone to step forward and take charge.
“You never want to look for yourself out there,” Williams added. “That’s not the type of player I am. I think sometimes I have been caught being too unselfish.”
Some of this is on the coaching staff. They need to find ways for Williams to be more productive. He is a talented young athlete with plenty of upside, but like any player, he needs plays run for him to keep him involved and to build his confidence back up.
“I have to try and get him some more touches, some more looks, so he can play and be aggressive,” Malone said.
Malone isn’t looking for Williams to become a chucker, but he needs more from his young forward. With so many new pieces on the Kings’ roster, finding defined roles for players is still a work in progress. The door is open for Williams to carve out a huge niche off the Kings’ bench.
“Coach talked to me,” Williams said. “He just told me to keep my head, there’s no pressure. just try to find shots when I can – good shots. I’m not out there trying to jack up 10 shots a game. When I’m open, he wants me to shoot it. When the ball gets thrown to me and I have a good shot, take it. I think that’s the good thing about coach; he has a lot of confidence in his players.”
The 2013-14 Sacramento Kings are a work in progress. With massive roster turnover comes inconsistent play and struggles, especially from young players like Williams.
He will figure it out. He is bright and fully engaged in the process. He wants to get better and is willing to put in the time to improve. And who knows, maybe the Kings make another move to land a point guard who fits better with Williams’ style of play.