Even if you haven't made much time to watch the Jazz, Blazers, Timberwolves, or Hornets over the past three seasons, you probably know that Mo Williams isn't quite the same guy who the Cavaliers shipped away at the 2011 trade deadline. The one-time All Star has occasionally found himself thrust into the starting lineup since leaving Cleveland (Utah in 2012-13, Minnesota and Charlotte last year), with mixed results, but is nowadays ideally suited for a backup role.
Depending on the timetable for Kyrie Irving's return, as well as his continued health going forward, it's possible (if not likely) that Mo will serve as the Cavs' primary point guard for a few stretches this coming season while sliding into a bench spot when the team is fully healthy. His flaws are well-documented; he is a below-average defender at one end, and is prone to stretches of reckless gunning at the other. Williams is a polarizing figure - while he was credited by some for "fixing" the Blazers' bench problems during the 2013-14 campaign, Portland opted to jettison him in favor of Steve Blake the following offseason.
While he did the most he could with offensively challenged (and injury-ridden) teammates in Minnesota and Charlotte, watching him pound the air out of the ball as he shouted instructions to teammates made for rather dull basketball. It led to a season that saw him hoist more field goals per-36 minutes than any other in his career - not an ideal scenario for a 32-year-old with an effective Field Goal percentage (46.6 percent) nearly three full points below league average (49.3 percent).
Despite his shortcomings, there are two reasons why Mo Williams' second tour in Cleveland will work. First, he's smart enough to know what his role ought to be. His 2014-15 numbers shouldn't be a cause for concern once you consider the context of the teams he played for. In Minnesota, he was asked to lead an attack featuring Chase Budinger, Gorgui Dieng and Robbie Hummel. In Charlotte, it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Lance Stephenson and Cody Zeller. Williams' circumstances demanded him to shoot, and shoot often; I mean, YOU try to generate points with the names listed above alongside you. Did he make some questionable decisions? Of course, and he will this season, too. But with LeBron and Kyrie serving as primary ball handlers, and J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert as adequate dribblers, Mo ought to have plenty of opportunities to spot up, and fewer chances to dominate the ball.
That's the second reason the Mo signing will work: he is a very good spot up shooter. Last season's shooting woes were a result of so many pull-up attempts. Over the past two seasons, he's shown himself to be much better when he's allowed to spot up:
Most players are better when they're able to catch the ball in rhythm and fire immediately; Mo is no exception. He has a compact, repeatable delivery, and must be respected when he stands out on the perimeter.
That said, there is one disturbing trend to Williams' game. He's always been a so-so finisher at the rim, shooting 52 percent there for his career, and while the past two seasons haven't seen much of a decline in his ability to finish at the rim (50.7 percent), it has seen a sharp drop in frequency of attempts. Over Williams' first ten seasons, nearly one-in-five of his shot attempts (18.6 percent) came at the rim. During the past two seasons, that number has been cut in half, to just 9% of his total field goal tries.
Instead of getting to the rim to either finish or create for a teammate, Mo comes off of picks looking to hit an elbow jumper. And while he is a perfectly decent shooter from that area, it's not very efficient offense:
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Williams running pick and rolls ought to be featured only in short spurts, while LeBron and Kyrie are resting, rather than as a main staple of the offense. It's also worth considering that Mo might look more effective running a pick and roll surrounded by adequate spacing around him (such as Shumpert, Smith, Richard Jefferson and Kevin Love) rather than the crew of bricklayers he ran with last season.
Mo's not perfect; bench players usually have a wart or two, and Williams is no exception. But his shooting ability should translate to the Cavs' offense nicely, and he's a smart enough guy to know what the team needs him to be. His second stint in Cleveland should go just fine.