Sunday Musings: Boom or bust season for Derrick Williams

Derrick Williams sits on the sidelines of the Kings. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

For three years, the NBA has waited for Derrick Williams to arrive.  After being taken with the second overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, the former Arizona Wildcat has struggled to translate his college game to the professional level.  His career is at an all important impasse.

Still just 23-years-old, Williams is playing out the final year of his rookie contract with the Sacramento Kings, leaving his status with the team uncertain.

Williams is doing his part to show that he is worthy of another big payday.  He joined the Kings’ young players in Las Vegas this summer, playing three games with the team before heading back to Los Angeles to train.

While in LA, Williams attacked one of his major shortcomings as a pro.  He worked tirelessly to redefine his jump shot to the point that he is almost unrecognizable when he pulls up on the perimeter.

“He spent a lot of time in the gym,” Kings assistant coach Ryan Bowen said.  “He had a great summer in LA working out.  His work out guy Shea spent a lot of time with him just getting up jumpers.”

Bowen dropped in on Williams this summer from time to time to check on the forward’s progress.  Sacramento’s shooting issues from a season ago were well documented.  Adding rookie Nik Stauskas to the roster will help the issue, but the team needs improvement from every player on the roster.

Between Sacramento and Minnesota last season, Williams put up 99 3-pointers.  He hit just 26 of those attempts and his 26.3-percent shooting from long range was the worst of his three year career.

“Going back to the film, that was mainly the reason why I was missing a lot of my shots, just not being on balance,” Williams said.  “I really worked on that this summer and got up a lot of shots as well.”

Williams had a different looking shot for every occasion.  He showed the standard fall away and lean in jumpers that you see round the league, but Williams also fell away right and left as well on his shot.  While the target was stationary, Williams was anything but.

“Before, maybe it was 50-percent he would shoot a good shot, he was so inconsistent,” Bowen said.  “He is doing a better job and a lot of that has to do with just getting shots up.  And I think he’s taking better shots.  He’s not forcing things.”

Not only was Williams forcing the action, but there were mechanical issues with his jumper as well.  Always an incredible natural athlete, through watching film, Williams noticed that on his jumper, his leaping ability may be causing part of his issues.

“Before, I was jumping pretty high,” Williams said.  “I caught myself shooting on the way down.  Jumping high and shooting on the way down is a bad mix.”

This is a huge summer for Williams.  Being the second overall selection is a blessing and curse.  By seasons end, Williams will have already made close to $21 million in his four year career.  But unless he has a career year and then some, the Kings will have a tough time swallowing an $8.3 million qualifying offer or his cap hold of $12.7 million, come this summer.

“It’s big,” Williams said about the upcoming season.  “I try not to put a lot of pressure on myself, I never have playing basketball. Whenever I’ve done that, I haven’t played so well.”

What Williams has done, is put himself in a better position to succeed.

“This is really the best shape I’ve seen him in,” Bowen said.  “Body-wise, he really worked hard on it this summer.  He’s down (in weight) from what he played at last year.  He looks slimmer.”

“He’s lighter, he’s more athletic than he has been, hopefully he can carry it over,” Bowen added.

After splitting time with veteran free agent addition Omri Casspi in the preseason opener, Williams sat out Tuesday night’s contest as a healthy scratch.  Sacramento has an extremely deep bench and whether it’s Williams or Casspi backing up the small forward position, minutes will be scarce behind starter Rudy Gay.

Both Casspi and Williams can play the three and the stretch four position as well.  What will separate the duo might be versatility.

“I wanted to give him a true look,” coach Michael Malone said of Casspi.  “He’s had a very good camp so far.  (He’s a) high IQ basketball player, has a very good feel, knows how to play.  Can handle it, can attack.  And you saw that when he was on the floor, we probably had some of our better possessions of ball movement and he was a big part of that.”

The Kings have promoted an uptempo style and ball movement.  While Williams is the superior athlete, he averages just one assist per 36 minutes in his career.  Casspi isn’t exactly Chris Paul, but he averaged 2.5 per 36 minutes last season and a career average of 1.9.

Casspi is also the superior perimeter shooter, knocking down .352 percent of his 3-point shots over his career.  At 26-years-old, the Israeli born forward is still young and his defensive splits a season ago in Houston were impressive.  In short, Williams is in a dogfight for reserve minutes on a team that won just 28 games last season.

Williams is young and he can really run the floor, but the clock is ticking on his NBA career.  He needs a solid season in Sacramento to avoid the bust label.  If his summer regiment gives any indication, Williams is finally trying to take his career into his own hands.

If he can develop the perimeter shot and show improvement as a defender and distributor, he can play a major role on the 2014-15 Sacramento Kings.  If not, expect D’Alessandro to shop his $6.3 million contract as an expiring asset at the deadline or before.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also provides game day coverage for NBA.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart".