Derrick Williams is not a “stretch” four. During his six year NBA career he’s shot above 30 percent from distance just twice and is at 29.4 percent from that range for his career. Many expected Williams to develop a three-point shot based on a 57(!) percent season in his last year at Arizona, but it hasn’t happened.
That is not a problem for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Williams has impressed as a scorer early in his three-game run with the Cleveland Cavaliers on a 10-day contract. He’s playing 21.7 minutes per game and chipping in 17.7 points per 36 minutes on an 81.6(!) true shooting percentage, per basketball reference.
He’s scoring effectively to be sure, but it’s where and how he is scoring that is noteworthy.
We’re dealing with minute samples here, so it’s wise to take all of this with more than a grain of salt, but it’s noteworthy to see that 77 percent of Williams attempts have come in the restricted area, per NBA.com.
What makes this noteworthy is that he is literally the only player on the bench whose shot distribution looks anything like this. Per Basketball Reference, Williams’ average distance on his field goal attempts is 6.3 feet from the rim. Let’s compare that to what other members of the Cavaliers are shooting on such attempts.
As you can see, there’s no comparison. Everyone else on the Cavaliers bench unit (I included Iman Shumpert as that is the role he is likely to be in for the long haul) gets their offense out of set shots on the perimeter after either LeBron James or Kyrie Irving drives and kicks. That’s all well and good, and that spacing is part of what makes the Cavaliers offense so dangerous.
That said, it’s really nice to have a rim roller for LeBron, especially in bench-heavy units.
Normally, in the LeBron + bench lineups, the defense knows that whoever is screening for James will pop out to the three-point arc after hitting James’ man. Williams isn’t a shooter but he dives towards the rim and seals Cameron Payne for an easy and-one.
Williams finished in the 78th percentile among isolation scorers last season while ISO-ing on about 10 percent of his possessions, and he seems to have enough off-the-dribble juice to attack a mismatch.
Teams have felt happy to switch defensively in most action that doesn’t directly involve LeBron James in those bench units and as good as the Cavaliers other bench players are as shooters, exploiting a mismatch isn’t really their game. Williams attacks Joffrey Lauvergne here with a little help from a seal by Channing Frye. These kinds of plays are especially important now that Kevin Love will be missing time. The ability to create a bucket without extreme exertion from James and Irving could go a long way.
In general, it’s been helpful from a scoring perspective for the Cavaliers to simply have a player that’s willing to cut towards the hoop and score that isn’t just Tristan Thompson or LeBron James when he’s off the ball.
That kind of activity, even when it doesn’t work out, goes a long way in destabilizing defenses and keeping them on their toes.
There are red flags for Williams. He really can’t shoot, and his rebounding his been hilariously terrible for somebody who is 6’8. He’s grabbing only 3.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is a rather enormous drop off for Kevin Love, whose minutes Williams ostensibly will seek to fill. He’s not likely ever to be a great rebounder, and the rest of the Cavaliers will have to pick up the slack with gang efforts on the defensive end of the ball.
Defensively, he’s just been okay, but sticking him on second units protects him from some of the tougher covers in the league. He’s still learning scheme on both ends of the ball, which is to be expected, and there are some possessions where he sort of aimlessly ambles around trying to find out who he’s supposed to screen and where he’s supposed to stand.
Look; Derrick Williams has almost no track record of being a good NBA player. It is more likely than not that his numbers regress on the offensive side of the ball and he ends up frustrating the Cavaliers with poor decision making. With that said, Williams has hardly been in basketball heaven, as LeBron James noted after Williams’ second game with the team.
Williams has spent his entire career with the Timberwolves, the Kings, the Knicks and half a season with the Heat when they were at their worst in the post-Wade era. Those are hardly model franchises known for squeezing the most they can out of a player.
Meanwhile, all you need to do is to look over at the Bay Area to see what a truly talented team can do with a much-maligned player that has a certain useful set of skills that they need. JaVale McGee isn’t a perfect player by any means, but he’s been perfectly useful for a team that needs to find value on the margins with a high payroll, just like the Cavaliers.
It remains to be seen if the Cavaliers can do the same for Williams, especially for a player they just need to get productive regular season minutes out of, but if LeBron James is invested in his success, it certainly seems possible.