One of Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle’s favorite qualities in players is resourcefulness. Jason Kidd, for example, was constantly on the receiving end of Carlisle’s praise for possessing that trait. But his players aren’t the only resourceful ones these days. The Dallas front office has been just that so far this summer.
Three-time All-Star Deron Williams became available, and the Mavs signed him. Williams, a Dallas-area native, is now home, and Dallas now has an offensive quarterback at the point guard spot that the team has missed since Kidd’s playing days.
Williams, who just turned 31, is one of just five active NBA players with at least 12,000 career points and 6,000 assists. The point guard is joined by LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, and Andre Miller in that group. He’s been selected to two All-NBA teams and he’s averaged a points/assists double-double four times in his career. Williams is one of the best point guards of the last decade.
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of the importance of the point guard in today’s NBA. Williams shot just 38.7 percent from the field last season, but the Brooklyn Nets offense was nearly six points worse per 100 possessions offensively when Williams was off the floor. Even fighting through a difficult season, he still propelled the offense forward. The hope for the Mavs, obviously, is that Williams’ shooting percentage was just a blip on the radar, and it’s sensible to think that: Williams shot 45.0 percent from the field in 2013-14, playing in a much more spread-out offensive system similar to the one he’ll direct in Dallas.
One element working in Williams’ advantage is the quality of teammates and system he’ll step right into in Dallas. Carlisle’s pick-and-roll offense is renowned for its pristine floor-spacing, fueled primarily by Dirk Nowitzki’s unprecedented impact on defenses. Brooklyn was 26th in the NBA in three-point shooting last season while Dallas was 11th, and with additions like Wes Matthews and Justin Anderson, the Mavs figure to improve even further in that area. Defenses will have to respect the Mavs’ shooters, which will give Williams more room to operate and an easier path to the basket. Without that freedom in Brooklyn last season, Williams’ shooting percentage from within three feet of the rim sank from 64.6 percent in 2013-14 to to 45.7 percent last season, per Basketball-Reference. But for a guard with his size — 6′ 3″ tall with a wingspan stretching wider than 6′ 6″ — finishing should be relatively easy as long as he has proper space around him.
When factoring in the shooting ability of Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia, opposing bigs won’t be able to afford to park themselves at the rim in an effort to stop Williams. Dallas is going to spread the floor this season to extremes that not many other clubs in the league can match, which will make everyone’s job easier.
The pick-and-roll is where Williams made a name for himself in this league. He and Carlos Boozer combined to run one of the most devastating P&Rs of the mid-2000s with the Utah Jazz. Now Williams will look to resurrect that pick-and-roll magic in Dallas, paired alongside the best pick-and-pop big in the history of the sport and flanked by two dead-eye shooters in Matthews and Chandler Parsons. Williams’ career assist-to-turnover ratio sits at 2.88, an excellent mark for any point guard. Figuring his passing into the equation, Williams ranked in the 90th percentile league-wide in points per offensive possession, per Synergy Sports. There’s no question he can still run an offense at a high level.
It’s also important, in the Mavs’ case, to find a point guard who not only can run an offense himself, but also complement Parsons well. After all, the small forward is in line for an expanded offensive role this season. Williams fits the bill in that respect, too, as he shot a blistering 42.2 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season, per NBA.com. While Parsons knifes his way through the lane in his own pick-and-roll, Williams will act as a threat on the perimeter which will command defensive attention.
Today’s NBA is all about creating space and filling a roster with players who are good at things that complement the strengths of their teammates. Parsons and Williams excel in the pick-and-roll, while Matthews and Nowitzki are terrific in the post. But Dirk and Pachulia can also hit mid-range jumpers, and the three other starters are all excellent three-point shooters. So no matter what offensive set the Mavs are running, there are threats everywhere on the floor. This unit does not have any one-dimensional players, and that versatility is perhaps its biggest strength.
Playing in a conference against — take a deep breath — Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Ty Lawson, Rajon Rondo, and D’Angelo Russell, it was imperative that Dallas add a high-caliber point guard into the mix. Williams is that guy.