We know that Williams has pedigree; once upon a time, he was in contention for the “best point guard in the league” title with Chris Paul, and there were reasonably intelligent people on his side of that argument. Injuries have sapped his game some, but he was solid with the Mavs. Let’s take a look at how and how much he can help the Cavaliers this season.
Williams doesn’t fit the mold of the kinds of point guards LeBron typically likes to play with. James has excelled with point guards who don’t necessarily need the ball in their hands. Kyrie Irving doesn’t fit that mold, but Mario Chalmers, Matthew Dellavedova and Norris Cole were all low-usage, high energy defenders. Players like Mo Williams added scoring boost over pure playmaking.
That’s not Williams. He is an insanely effective passer out of the pick and roll. Per Synergy Sports, he’s producing 1.13 points per possession in the pick and roll including field goal attempts out of his passes. That’s good for first in the league.
Williams does an amazing job at patiently probing far enough into the defense to force them to react and leave his man. He’s also adept at running the pick and pop, which will make him an ideal partner with Channing Frye when the team takes the ball out of LeBron’s hands.
Who stands to benefit from Williams’ shot creation? LeBron James. When Irving is not on the floor, James is forced to carry an insane creation burden. When Irving is sitting, James has a usage rate of 34.4 percent while assisting on 55.5 percent of his teammates made field goals. Basically, James does everything.
Williams allows LeBron to move off the ball, where he is an infrequent but very effective roll man in the pick and roll. James is in the 80th percentile as a finisher in just 22 possessions as a roll man, per NBA.com. Last year, he was in the 95th percentile, and being paired with a passer like Williams will provide him or his teammates a steady diet of open looks.
Speaking of open looks, Williams teammates shoot the lights out when he gets them the ball.
Deron William is shooting an eFG% of 55% in the pick & roll, but his passes out of it to spot up shooters are yielding an eFG% of 70%.— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) February 25, 2017
While Williams is still an amazing creator, he’s not the scorer he once was, especially not in isolation. Williams is in the 27th percentile as an isolation scorer, and scores on 36 percent of his opportunities there. That’s not a real issue though. This team doesn’t need its role players to go get buckets without help.
Any Cavaliers’ shooting will be put up to a microscope, and while Williams isn’t a deadeye, he’s capable.
He’s shooting 34.8 percent from distance this year and is at 37.3 on catch-and-shoot threes. That said, 59 percent of his catch and shoot attempts have been guarded. The LeBron James factor may open up more wide-open attempts for Williams. That said, he’s not going to be Kyle Korver or J.R. Smith, but he’s able to knock down an open jumper when it’s there and given his other offensive value, it ought to suffice.
Williams clearly likes the midrange, and specifically, he enjoys the same kinds of mid-range shots off the dribble that Irving is partial to.
These are some of his most comfortable shots. Per Synergy, Williams is shooting 47.7 percent on jumpers out of the pick and roll. That puts him in the 84th percentile and 13th among players who have taken at least 50 attempts.
Basically, teams should look to force Williams to shoot rather than pass, but he’s got enough juice to hurt teams for overcommitting.
Defensively, Williams is no Delly. He’s 32 years old, and while he should be able to capably defend against bench units, I wouldn’t expect him to change the game on that side of the floor.
Williams is a elite distributor and should even be able to play as a lead guard with Kyrie Irving at the two against smaller backcourts. He’s had success playing point alongside J.J. Barea and Seth Curry, and Kyrie, when he gets to play alongside an elite distributor, is devastating (see: when he plays with LeBron).
The simple reality is that the Cavaliers didn’t have anybody like Williams on their roster. His skill set fills gaps that the team was previously deficient, and he should complement the stars on the team as well. This fit appears to be perfect on paper. We’ll see if it works quite as well in practice.