Derrick Williams getting back to basics

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Since the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Derrick Williams second overall in 2011, the 23-year-old has been a dartboard for criticism. Now Williams finds himself playing scrap minutes for the Sacramento Kings, but a less-than-ideal situation hasn’t dissuaded his dedication to basketball.

“He could have easily stopped working and felt sorry for himself, but he didn’t do that,” Michael Malone stated after Thursday’s win against the Chicago Bulls. “That’s the definition of a true pro.”

Williams’ challenge to become an NBA contributor after starring at Arizona State can be pointed to many factors. For starters, the Timberwolves didn’t believe he had the lateral quickness to defend at small forward, so the team featured him at power forward, where he struggled to overpower professionals.

After trading for Williams on November 26, 2013, the Kings declared him a three, but his lack of shooting range (career 29.3 percent behind the arc) allowed defenses to sag off and anticipate penetration.

In addition, both organizations have claimed the forward isn’t assertive enough, likely the root to stretches when he’s invisible on both sides of the floor.

Coaches have worked relentlessly with Williams, on issues from spacing to rebounding to moving off the ball, but the fourth-year pro in the last year of his rookie contract has committed himself to improving a more iconic motion – the jumper.

“Just being a more consistent shooter,” Williams told Cowbell Kingdom of his focus before Thursday’s game. “Sometimes I get a hot streak, where I’ll knock down a few 3’s in a row, and sometimes I go on a cold streak. But just being a more consistent shooter, that’s the main thing I’ve really been working on since last season. Just being able to knock down midrange shots, 3-pointers without hesistation.”

The promise is there. In Williams’ second NBA season, Kevin Love missed 64 games to injury.  The injury to Love allowed the rhythm shooter produced a 41.8 effective field goal percentage on his jumpers, which accounted for 66 percent of his field goal attempts (82games.com). He also made a career-high 33.2 percent of his 2.5 3-point attempts per match.

Williams started 56 games that season, and just 15 since.

When the Kings traded for Rudy Gay roughly two weeks after Williams’ Sacramento welcoming, the lottery pick was relegated to bench duty.  With the second unit, his numbers dropped from 12.9 points per game on 53.1 percent shooting in seven games as a Kings starter to eight points per night on 42 percent the rest of the season. The preparation and mentality of coming off the bench as he did his rookie year is still an adjustment.

“You just got to have a different mindset,” Williams explained. “There’s been people in the league that have made big contributions to their team coming off the bench, like Jamal Crawford for one. He’s the main example I use all the time, and he’s been a sixth man candidate pretty much every year since he’s been in the league. You just got to have a different mindset when you’re starting or coming off the bench. As you know, being a starter, you’re always ready.”

Of course, Williams knows there is more to solidifying his game than his pregame approach or knocking down jumpers with regularity. But by fixing what he believes are his biggest weaknesses, the wing hopes it will open more avenues on the floor.

“I expect more from myself than anybody,” declared Williams. “It’s not necessarily anybody else, coach Malone, or any other players on the team. I expect more than anybody else expects from me. I know he (Malone) wants me to come in and be more aggressive, look for my shot, especially when I’m open, and really push the ball in transition as well.”

Williams put his hard work to use on Thursday, when Malone played him for 22 minutes and he responded with a season-best 10 points, two assists and +11 differential. Until he strings together a few positive outings, no one may notice his improvement, but his consistency in the practice facility is a start.

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About: Rui Thomas

Rui Thomas is a writer and reporter for Cowbell Kingdom. He previously covered the Sacramento Kings and the NBA for Sports Out West. He is published by Sports Illustrated’s Truth and Rumors and Yahoo Sports NFL among others.