One-on-one with Deron Williams
Deron Williams dishes on his transition to Dallas, playing for Rick Carlisle, reuniting with Wes Matthews, the Mavs Fantasy Camp and much more.
It says a lot that one of the things Deron Williams is looking forward to most about his time in Dallas is the franchise’s stability. Since the 2008-09 season, the Mavs organization has revolved around the core of star player Dirk Nowitzki, head coach Rick Carlisle, general manager Donnie Nelson, and proprietor Mark Cuban. Carlisle, the newest of the bunch, is one of just three coaches who has been with the same team since the beginning of the 2010-11 season. There is certainly plenty of tenure in Dallas.
OffRtg? NetRtg? eFG%? What does this all mean?!
That has to be appealing for someone like Williams, who played for four different coaches between 2011 and 2015 in Brooklyn: Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, and most recently Lionel Hollins. A point guard is the closest thing in basketball to an NFL quarterback, whose success in football is dependent not only on his own ability, but also the continuity of the program. Constantly adjusting to new systems year after year in either sport can stunt a young player’s development or, in the veteran Williams’ case, could potentially result in a drop-off in stats. Last season he shot a career-low 38.7 percent from the field with a 50.4 true shooting percentage.
But that isn’t the case in Dallas, where the Mavs have run a pick-and-roll offense centered around Nowitzki and a bevy of guards for many years now, and the results have clearly been positive for nearly every player in that position. However, after starting four different point guards in each of the last four seasons (with cameos by Mike James and Jameer Nelson), the Mavs must be excited about the possibility of having Williams act as a mainstay at the point guard spot moving forward. Plugging him into the pick-and-roll, a system in which he thrived in Utah during the first half of his career, could very well lead to a dramatic boost in Williams’ numbers.
In fact, regardless of system, point guards have nearly always played well next to Nowitzki. Below is a chart showing the shooting percentages of 12 of the 17 starting point guards the German has played with who posted at least a 57.0 true shooting percentage, sorted by TS%. (All numbers from Basketball-Reference.com.)
In the same way Carlisle’s offense made Dallas paradise for starting point guards, so too did Don Nelson’s offense, which featured four times a point guard with a true shooting percentage higher than 60.0. This isn’t a guarantee that Williams will put up monster numbers this season, but there’s more than a decade’s worth of evidence that he will fit just fine in Carlisle’s offense. What’s most intriguing is that the name at the top of that list, Jason Terry, was also the last starting point guard for the Mavericks who could consistently create his own offense. Devin Harris was able to do the same thing in the 2007-08 season but was eventually traded for Jason Kidd. Kidd and Jose Calderon were both excellent players (Kidd, obviously, is a future Hall of Famer) but there’s some added value in players like Williams and Terry who, if the play breaks down, can still generate a good shot.
In that regard, what makes this a new case is the fact that the Mavs didn’t necessarily sign Williams strictly to play next to Nowitzki. Primarily, they seized the opportunity to sign him because he’s a good player. Secondary is his fit within the pick-and-roll offense. Third, however, is his ability to run the offense but also to carry some of the offensive load himself.
Earlier this summer, Dallas had an entire roster assembled but with no starting point guard to orchestrate the offense. J.J. Barea and Raymond Felton both made positive impacts off the bench last season, and Devin Harris played shooting guard a majority of the time, but there was a need for a starting-caliber point who could score. Chandler Parsons will have the ball in his hands plenty this season, but it’s still an obvious plus to have another player on the roster who can make things happen. And because both players can facilitate and score, it makes defending them that much more difficult. Both players can also catch and shoot from behind the arc. They fit very well together.
That’s a huge positive for the Mavericks for several reasons. With Williams and Parsons both in the mix, Carlisle has the option to keep at least one of them on the floor at all times, giving Dallas a reliable, proven playmaker to manage the flow of the game. Barea can also be counted on to control the tempo and has the chance to continue his role as a terrific change-of-pace option off the bench. But the other benefit has to do with Parsons’ health status. The forward maintains that he’ll be ready to go by the time the season starts, but if there’s a setback in his recovery process, the Mavs know they’ll still have a capable ball-handler to run the offense. Dallas will not be relying too much on one player this season, and that could make everyone’s job easier.
And because there are so many threats in the starting lineup — Williams, Nowitzki, Parsons, and Wes Matthews — all of the Mavericks’ primary scorers should have some extra room to operate. Unlike on a more traditional team featuring one or two “go-to” guys, multi-dimensional offensive players who can create their own offense, Dallas now has four of them. It will now be more difficult for defenses to focus in on any single player, let alone double-team him. Dirk, for example, faced many doubles last season, particularly in the low post along the baseline. But good luck doing that with players like Williams, Matthews, and Parsons spotting up around the perimeter.
That should especially benefit Williams, who has spent the last four-plus seasons in a system which struggled to create space for its players. Going back to the 2010-11 season, when the Nets traded for Williams, the club has only shot better than 35.0 percent on 3s as a team twice. The Mavs, meanwhile, have shot below 35.0 percent from deep just twice this millennium. That will make Williams, who has shot 37.2 percent from deep across the last three seasons, that much more dangerous in Dallas’ wide-open offense.
To better illustrate this, here’s an example of Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll offense from last season. Thaddeus Young is a fine shooter as a power forward, but the Nets ran a lot of 3-out, 2-in offense last season, as opposed to the 4-out system Dallas has run for Nowitzki’s entire career. By that, I mean their two big men play inside the arc, closer to the basket. While that style of play certainly has its merits, it occasionally results in a crowded lane on drives to the rim.
More bodies closer to the basket played a role in Williams’ field goal percentage dropping to 45.7 percent from within three feet last season, according to Basketball-Reference. But that doesn’t mean Williams simply can’t finish: He shot 64.6 percent inside of three feet in 2013-14, playing in what eventually became Jason Kidd’s wide-open four-out system, featuring Paul Pierce at the power forward spot. That system resulted in floor spacing like this.
Pierce, the power forward, can shoot well enough to keep his defender, Josh McRoberts, from sinking down far enough to help against Williams’ drive. This is the way many teams in the league, including and especially the Mavs, space the floor in today’s game, and an open lane should making finishing at the rim a whole lot easier for the new Mavs point guard.
On the other side of the ball, Williams gives the Mavs an element the club has missed for a few seasons. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Williams has good size for a point guard and the strength to potentially defend “up” a position at shooting guard. That could come in handy, as Carlisle frequently plays multiple point guards at the same time. Last season, Rajon Rondo had the length to defend either guard spot, but not since Kidd played the 1 have the Mavs had a starting point guard who could combine excellent offensive ability with defensive versatility.
Hopefully both Williams and the Mavs can find the stability they’re looking for, because on paper this looks like it has the potential to be a pretty special union.