Derrick Williams has been a disappointment pretty much his entire career. After being drafted second overall by the Timberwolves in the 2011 Draft, just behind Kyrie Irving, Williams never managed to show the feel for the game or the skill level to justify his draft selection.
After signing a free agent deal with Miami this year, Williams played early on, while the Heat were stumbling to a terrible start. As Miami found their stride though, Williams found his way out of the rotation, and asked to be released to sign somewhere he could play.
Incidentally, the injury-wracked defending NBA Champions had room.
Williams was a flyer for the Cavaliers, and one that, all things considered, worked out very well. When he joined the team, he did an unbelievable job at focusing on what he could do and avoiding playing beyond himself. He rim-ran in the pick and roll and in transition, he leveraged his athleticism to guard at least four different positions on a given night and, on occasion, hit an open three.
He also factored into one of Tyronn Lue’s most fun experiments of the season: the Jumbo Lineup, guarding point guards in a lineup that featured LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye. His athleticism and switchability was key for that unit and provided LeBron an uber-athletic finisher at the rim in transition.
He also proved himself as a more than adequate cutter off ball and slinked into space where LeBron could find him with his picture-perfect passing.
The ability to play within yourself, especially on a team as talented as last year’s Cavaliers team, is an important one. Williams certainly proved that the Cavaliers are better at letting players with specialized skillsets thrive doing exactly what they do best better than almost any time in the league.
Williams’ jumper, long a sore spot, showed up with a force last season. He shot a career-best 40.4 percent from distance during his time with the Cavaliers on mostly wide-open shots. Still, that’s a 10 percent jump from his career-best, and not something anybody on the Cavaliers should count on in the future if Williams is brought back.
The shooting was nice, but it became something Williams leaned on more and more during his brief stint in the rotation. In his first couple games, he was taking no more than two attempts, only launching if totally necessary. As the season wore on though, he took more and more threes and did less damage around the rim, finishing his Cleveland tenure taking 4.4 threes per 36 minutes.
That was fine, as his numbers were solid, but his utility to the team didn’t come from the three-point arc, and if he’s brought back and in the rotation next year, he’d be well-served to remember that.
Williams’ time in the rotation came to an end with another Williams, Deron, was signed. There was a chance Tyronn Lue might have stuck with his very successful “Jumbo” lineup, but with Deron in the fold, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love getting healthy, there just weren’t minutes left over for Derrick.
Such is life on a contender - you’re constantly getting squeezed for minutes, and you’ve got to earn everything you’ve got. Williams probably deserved to stay in the rotation based on how well he played, but he was on a championship team that had continuity and tenure together.
Many thought he would have been helpful against the Warriors in the Finals, but this was always wishful thinking. He had already been out of the rotation for several months, and while Williams proved that he is useful in small doses, but he’s no Kevin Durant stopper (as if such a thing exists.)
The Cavaliers have a ton of roster decisions to make this summer, and that’s assuming that they have a GM to make them. Williams proved useful if he could be brought back on the cheap, but with Jefferson possibly returning and Cedi Osman potentially joining the team from overseas, he may not have a roster spot.
Regardless, Williams proved that he can play a role for a good team if placed in the right environment. Even if it’s not with the Cavaliers, he should be able to find a job if teams were paying attention.