DALLAS — After battling a nagging left calf strain that sidelined him for nine games from Nov. 6-23, three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams has begun to recapture the elite form that he displayed during the 2015-16 season.
Last season, Williams averaged 14.1 points, a team-high 5.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 65 games, making 63 starts while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range during his first campaign with the Dallas Mavericks. Williams was also hampered late in the season due to a left abdominal strain and sports hernia that forced him to miss eight of the last 11 games on the schedule and the final four outings during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City. The 32-year-old lead guard then re-signed with the team to a reported one-year deal worth $10 million during free agency this summer, hoping to pick up where he left off at this season. And with his injury concerns seemingly behind him, the Mavs now believe they’re seeing Williams at his best once again.
“When a veteran guy like that has a pulse on the game, it’s a real advantage for your team,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle recently said while praising Williams’ command of the offense. “It’s helping a lot, and he’s really one of our real key guys. He’s our starting point guard, and he’s got an unusual game for a point guard in this league. But with the way we play, we depend on him to make plays and to score, and he’s got a tough defensive matchup every night. We need him to rebound, and we need him to really play a total all-around game. You know, he’s another guy that was coming off injury problems early, and he missed eight or 10 games. And it took him a while to get a rhythm and get to feeling good. Now, he’s back to where he needs to be, so we’ve just got to keep him going.”
Bouncing back from a lackluster ’14-15 campaign in Brooklyn that led to eventual buyout talks, Williams welcomed a change of scenery last season after playing for four different coaches during his 3 1/2 years with the Nets. He’s now beginning to thrive under Carlisle’s tutelage with another year in the same system, earning the coach’s trust in the process.
On the season, Williams is averaging 13.7 points and a team-high 7.1 assists a game, shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from three-point range. He’s also seen a steady increase in his production since returning from the calf injury that bothered him earlier in the season. And while growing more familiar with Carlisle’s free-flowing offense, Williams has become an extension of his head coach on the floor by often taking on the play-calling duties.
“I mean, any time you’re in a system for a couple of years, you’re going to pick up things a little better. It’s been a while since I’ve had that opportunity, so it’s been great. I’m forming chemistry with some guys and getting used to playing with some guys for once. Coach [Carlisle] likes to control things a little bit, but at times he let’s me have some freedom,” Williams candidly said.
He added: “I mean, I think that definitely helps, knowing what coach expects and how he talked about me having some chemistry with a couple of guys. It’s definitely been fun to play with them, especially when we’re playing like this. You know, when we’re playing like this, it’s a lot of fun. We’re just doing a lot of pick-and-rolls, and just playing basketball out there. You know, see where we can get a matchup, drive and kick. I think when you get in the habit of just calling plays, teams are great at scouting. You know, we’re just playing basketball. And you can’t really scout for that, ’cause there’s nothing to really scout for. We’re just running random pick-and-rolls, drives, cuts and different things like that. You know, I think it speeds up the tempo a little bit. We’re able to get some easy looks, instead of just having to grind it out for every little bucket.”
Averaging 15.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game during the month of December, Williams began to showcase the skills that made him desirable to the Dallas front office to bring back this season. He’s now averaging 14.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in 10 games during the month of January, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three-point range during that span. In the process, Williams has led the Mavericks (15-29) to a 5-5 mark during the month, including wins in four of their last six games. And according to 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, Williams’ aggression has opened up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
“I think D-Will has been great, breaking teams down with his little slow crossover he’s got. He’s getting in the lane and making stuff happen for us,” Nowitzki said while praising his floor general.
He added: “I mean, it’s been more of the same. I thought last year at times he was our best player. He was our crunch-time player at times. He got big plays run for him, and he came through a lot of the time. And just injuries, unfortunately, at the end cut his season a little short. But I think this year, besides the little calf thing that he had, he’s been healthy and he’s looking better and better from month to month. Hopefully he can stay injury-free and keep going. Like I said, he’s making stuff happen for us. We need people to penetrate and get in the lane, especially now with J.J. (Barea) out again. He gets in there and makes stuff happen, and we depend on that as shooters.”
Note: The Mavericks will now conclude their three-game homestand Wednesday at American Airlines Center, hosting the New York Knicks. New York leads the season series 1-0 after a 93-77 home win on Nov. 14. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
Wesley Matthews (right hip strain) — day-to-day
Andrew Bogut (right hamstring strain) — out
J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out