Derrick Williams’ summer league experiment achieved nothing

Derrick Williams attacks the basket against the D-League Select Team (Photo: Morgan Ragan)

Derrick Williams’ summer league experience was an interesting one, to say the least. In advance of his fourth professional season since leaving the Arizona Wildcats, the 6-foot-8 forward agreed to play for the Kings at the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League. Given the disappointing tenor of the first three professional seasons for the former No. 2 overall pick, it wasn’t a surprise that he’d continue to work on his game in the Sin City. What was surprising, however, was how brief his appearance ultimately would be.

Amid a tournament that saw the Kings go 6-1 en route to a summer league championship, Williams played in the team’s first three games, and that was it. According to coach Michael Malone, sending the 23-year-old home early was the plan all along, but why?

It’s undeniable that in three full NBA seasons, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2011 NBA Draft has failed to meet the lofty expectations bestowed upon such highly touted prospects. Heading into this offseason, his game was in need of significant adjustment, and that was why he consented to play in Las Vegas. Or at least that should have been the primary reason.

“Man, I don’t feel like I really need to prove anything,” Derrick Williams said after practice between the Kings’ first two summer league games. “I just know I want to get better with the team. That’s what I use summer league for. Just all get better, not just myself. Obviously you want to get better individually, but we’re here to play together and get this chemistry going. Myself, Q (Quincy Acy), Ray (McCallum), Ben (McLemore), some of the returners, we gotta get that chemistry since we’re so young.”

As far as individual areas he’d like to improve, Williams listed his jump shot, the frequency of his post-ups and his repertoire of moves in the post.

Throughout the 2013-14 season, whenever coach Malone was asked how the young forward could become a better and more consistent player, his answer never changed. Even at a July practice toward the beginning of the summer league, Malone’s broken record was still playing the same tune: “I’d like to see an aggressive, attack mentality. When Derrick Williams is an attacking, aggressive player, he takes his game to another level. When he is a player that hangs out on the perimeter and settles for jump shots, he becomes somewhat of an ordinary player.”

To open summer league, Williams earned nine free-throw attempts in 28 minutes of play, but he only grabbed five rebounds while playing the 4 position and shot 3-of-8 from the field. Two days later, matched up with Noah Vonleh for much of his 24 minutes of court time, Williams shot 2-of-8, committed five fouls, went to the line just four times and corralled a mere two rebounds. By comparison, Vonleh finished with 18 rebounds, including five of the offensive variety.

In Williams’ summer league finale, his offensive game finally surfaced, as he recorded 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, while showcasing a balanced game, inside and out. While he did only take four free throws and finished with a single rebound, he was finally aggressive in going to the basket. And that was it, as he would play no more games at Las Vegas Summer League.

Explaining his rationale for participation at that early summer league practice, Williams continued, “I’m doing it just for offseason stuff. I just want to get out and play against different competition, NBA competition. And when you’re home, it can get repetitive when you’re just working out by yourself or one-on-ones, two-on-twos, three-on-threes, stuff like that, so it’s always good to try and come out here and play against other competition.”

Williams certainly diversified his training regimen and potentially staved off boredom with a change of scenery, but did he get better?

It’s doubtful. Was he able to take anything away that will allow him to improve between summer league and the start to the regular season? That’s probably also not the case.

Simply put, he played the big forward position in three exhibition games against weaker competition than he’ll facing in NBA games, and not only did he not excel most of the time; he occasionally looked pretty bad. Williams averaged just 14.0 points per 30 minutes (summer league games last for 40 minutes as opposed to 48) on 42.3 percent shooting. He didn’t record a single assist over three games and averaged 3.0 rebounds per 30 minutes, a paltry average for someone playing power forward.

After the Kings’ summer league opener, Malone said, “I think at times it’s tough, because he’s playing the 4 and trying to get a feel for the offense at that position. But when he has shown the ability to make the attempt to get to the rim and get to the foul line, he becomes a better player and we become a better team for it.”

As was quite evident by the remainder of the summer league, Williams wasn’t needed in Las Vegas.  The Kings kept winning despite his absence, notching a victory in each of their four games without him and ultimately taking home the championship.

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About: Aaron Fischman

Fischman is an editor and contributing feature writer for Cowbell Kingdom. The Los Angeles native graduated in 2011 from UC Davis with his Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Communication and received his Master's in Print and Digital Journalism from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2013. Besides CK, Fischman has covered the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks for SLAM and the Clippers for Clipper Blog, an ESPN.com TrueHoop Network Affiliate.