You are now invited into the NBA rabbit hole you didn’t know you
Do you remember Deron Williams before he boxed Frank Gore? The
Deron Williams before toiling away with his hometown Dallas
Mavericks and ring-chasing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The one
before the New Jersey Nets moved to Brooklyn. The one that got you
banned on forums because of how vociferously you may have argued
that he was better or worse than Chris Paul.
Ten years ago today, on March 4, that dude dropped a
franchise-record 57 points. Yeah, you’re getting old too, son.
(That's still a Nets record, by the way.)
That game itself, otherwise, wasn’t all that memorable. The Nets
had about one month left as representatives of New Jersey before
relocating to Brooklyn later that year. They, at 12-26, won 104-101
against a Charlotte Bobcats (!) team that dropped to 4-31 on the
Starters in the game included other glorious names like Kris
Humphries, who was second on the Nets with 11 points (and 13
rebounds) and played 40 minutes. DeShawn Stevenson finished with an
0-2-1-0-0 line and had one shot attempt in 29 minutes of play.
Eduardo Nájera, DeSagana Diop (who started for Charlotte!) and
Shelden Williams got some run, and Tyrus Thomas played about seven
Kemba Walker was still coming off the bench for D.J. Augustin.
Corey Maggette was the game’s second-highest scorer, finishing with
24 points on just 4-of-12 shooting, but converted 15-of-16
Current Charlotte (Hornets) star LaMelo Ball was 10 years
But it was also one of Williams’ last awesome NBA
moments while still in his prime, a career cut short due to...
well, it depends on who you ask, and/or what you believe. It’s
either related to injuries, which we began seeing take a toll on
Williams after the Nets moved to Brooklyn. Or other stuff, like
constant clashes with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett during that
infamous 2013-14 season together.
Say what you want about Stephen A. Smith — and this was before
he essentially became the face of ESPN — but I vividly recall him
here in New York saying things like, “Deron Williams has the
easiest job a franchise player could ever hope to have!” And, “All
he has to do is ball,” as Williams, frankly, didn’t.
The Nets had Williams — generally hated by their fans to this
day — Pierce, Garnett, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez as a
championship-level starting-five (in theory) entering the 2013-14
season. And the head coach was a first-timer in Jason Kidd, who
played an integral part on the underappreciated 54-win New York
Knicks the season before as a player.
“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,”
Pierce said to MacMullan. “But I felt
once we got there, that's not what he wanted to be. He just didn't
“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was
his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not
the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people.
I think it really affected him.”
After noting that Johnson is quiet and doesn’t want much
attention, Pierce continued.
“There's a lot of secondary guys on that team. KG and I went
there looking at them as the main guys who would push us, because
we were advancing in years. But we ended up doing all the pushing,”
(Given what we’ve learned, it’s mildly surprising that Williams
didn’t just fight him after seeing
this, but anyway.)
Williams remains one of the grand "what ifs" of this century.
And let’s be responsible — injuries are one of the driving reasons
for his sudden downswing from stardom to shell over a... hmm...
two-year span? But we do what-ifs with guys who battled injuries
all the time: Penny Hardaway, Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Grant Hill
and Derrick Rose, to name a few.
With Williams, just visualize, given how the game was going —
and where he had been trending at one point — where he
would’ve evolved to if the talent, health, discipline and mentality
all added up. And it doesn’t always come together, which is why
it’s not responsible to purely say “talent wins” if the implication
that talent alone is enough for substantial success.
And he clearly worked hard.
Williams averaged 19.5 points and 10.2 assists from 2007 to 2012
on .460/.346/.827 shooting splits. He attempted four threes a game
at a respectable level and nearly six free throws per contest
during that span. He consistently was among the league leaders in
assists, while simultaneously profiling as one of the NBA’s best
scoring point guards. His True Shooting percentage was at 56.8%
during those five years, hitting 60% in '07-08 and never dropping
below 56.6% until the Nets’ last year in New Jersey.
(Understandable when Humphries is your second-best player
for most of the season.)
We weren’t letting ‘em fly from three the way we are now, and
Williams was, like most others, streaky — but you had to guard him
out there. The 35% perimeter clip in his peak reflected the near
36% for his career. The assists came with some high turnover
numbers — Williams averaged 3.5 turnovers per game in those five
seasons — but that still gave him a near 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover
Williams wasn’t a usage monster either — his rating was never
higher than 25.8% until a 30.1% usage in 2011-12, but, again,
the roster. Even so, he was eighth in the league in usage;
otherwise, he never cracked the league’s top-20. You know who did
during that span? And on multiple occasions? Corey Maggette,
Michael Beasley, Stephen Jackson, his then-teammate Brook Lopez and
his former teammate Carlos Boozer. (Rashad McCants, Andrea
Bargnani, Charlie Villanueva, Josh Smith, Rodney Stuckey and Jordan
Crawford were in the top-20 as well during those days.)
Until the trade from Utah to New Jersey, Williams would be in
the top-20 in VORP consistently too. Most hadn’t yet cared about
some of those metrics though.
And his strength was a big part of his game. Williams was built
like Eric Gordon, had powerful crossovers like Baron Davis, a
passing fluidity that neared Steve Nash, and an offensive
creativity that rivaled CP3’s — which is how all those damn fights
It never came together, and everyone missed out because of it.
Imagine if his prime stretched into a couple of those Brooklyn
seasons... but don’t imagine too hard because logistically, it
would be a pain in the ass to lay out. But if he did ball out the
way people on microphones, in forums and in his own locker room
called for? Man.
Williams would've been toe-to-toe in the mid-2010s against
then-prime-entering stars such as James Harden, Stephen Curry and
Damian Lillard. In his own conference, we might’ve seen him in the
playoffs go crossover-for-crossover with Kyrie Irving, or
bump-for-bump with Kyle Lowry, or tough-finish-for-tough-finish
with Wall. All of that while still mirroring a stat line of roughly
20 points and 10 assists per game on efficient shooting, further
increasing his three-point and free-throw volume in the
That said, he did give us multiple All-NBA seasons and, again, a
whole-ass fight with Gore. He says he’s one-and-done, but that
might be because none of you have offered him the Pierce one yet.
And as silly as that sounds, you know you’d watch.
But seriously, peak Williams was epic. If he continued
along the path he had been, we don’t know if it would’ve brought
the Nets a title — but they would’ve been damn close.
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