For just over four years, Deron Williams has found himself on a long, strange trip that started in Utah and now ends in Dallas, with stops in New Jersey, Turkey and Brooklyn along the way.
In 2011, Williams all but forced his way off the Utah Jazz and pushed legendary coach Jerry Sloan into an unexpected, midseason retirement. He desired more freedom on offense and a less regimental coach, a wish the Jazz attempted to grant by trading Williams to the then New Jersey Nets.
Since then, Williams has had four coaches, five if you count his brief stint in Turkey during the lockout of 2011. He’s fallen victim to his own fickle ankles. And his production has suffered.
He may have gotten more freedom, but with the benefit of hindsight, the stability of Utah’s organization under Sloan may have been better for Williams, who said, “I’d love to play for Coach Sloan again,” in May of 2013, according to Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News.
Following a career-low field goal percentage and his lowest scoring output since his rookie season, Williams was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets and subsequently signed by the Dallas Mavericks, who were still reeling after the DeAndre Jordan fiasco.
Now, the two sides can help each other find their way.
Dallas is fresh off its own tough season, one they torpedoed by acquiring Rajon Rondo in December. Prior to the deal, the Mavericks were scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, an historically high mark that ranked first in the league. Their net rating was second to the Golden State Warriors at plus-8.5.
From the time of the trade to the end of the season, Dallas’ offensive rating was a more pedestrian 104.1 (13th in the league over that span) and its net rating was plus-1.0 (good for 15th).
Rondo’s time in Dallas ended in disaster, when the Mavericks made up a story about a back injury to hide the fact that they’d simply dismissed him from the team during the middle of a playoff series.
Just a one-to-one comparison of that and the incoming Williams shows that Dallas upgraded at the point-guard position.
What’s more important, Williams fits coach Rick Carlisle’s offensive scheme much better.
Part of what made Dallas’ offense so lethal before the Rondo trade was the amount of shooting every lineup had. Surrounding Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls or Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-pops with multiple three-point threats, including the point guard, kept the floor wide open.
If defensive attention followed Chandler to the rim, Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis, Jameer Nelson or Nowitzki would have a few more feet of space to get a shot off after a kick-out. If Nowitzki’s defender had to help on Ellis, Nelson or another guard who could shoot, he’d get another split second or two to get off his mid-range jumper.
Another important ingredient was all five guys being willing and able to move the ball quickly and often around the floor, looking for the best shot available.
Rondo’s inability to command defensive attention as a shooter and his dominance of the ball eliminated those two factors that made the Mavericks offense so potent.
Enter Williams, who did have a higher usage than Rondo last season, but is also a much better shooter. Playing within Carlisle’s read-and-react, pass-heavy offense should afford Williams more open looks than he saw with the Nets, too.
As much as Williams was maligned in 2014-15, he still managed to post a player efficiency rating of 15.7, an assist percentage of 33.7 and a three-point percentage of 36.7. Only four other players could match those numbers.
Plenty of people see parameters like those as arbitrary, but the point is that he’s still a unique combination of passing and shooting, the primary ingredients to Carlisle’s offense running smoothly.
Williams’s role in Dallas will probably have to be some combination of what Nelson and Ellis did for the Mavericks before the Rondo deal.
Nelson was mostly a pull-up shooter out of pick-and-rolls or a spot-up shooter when someone else initiated the action. Before being traded, 63.2 percent of Nelson’s field goal attempts were threes. He hit 36.9 percent of those attempts, making it imperative for big men to hedge when he was the playmaker operating around ball screens.
Williams should be the same kind of threat from deep, assuming he ups his attempts a bit and stays around his career three-point percentage of 35.8.
Last season, 30.7 percent of his field goal attempts were threes. He probably doesn’t need to get up to the 63.2 percent of Nelson, but you can bet Carlisle will get Williams to start taking a few more threes and a few less long twos.
As for the other side of that Nelson/Ellis combination, someone will have to pick up some of the usage left behind by Monta. He led the Mavericks in both usage percentage (27.9) and field goal attempts per game (16.9). And he was able to collapse defenses by getting to the paint, leaving more room for shooters outside.
With Ellis now in Indiana, and new Maverick Wesley Matthews likely to miss the first part of the season while recovering from a torn Achilles, Williams may be the guy to take over some of those possessions.
The ankle injuries may have robbed him of some of his explosiveness, but Dallas will still need someone who can get to the rim when defenses focus on the dive man in those high pick-and-rolls.
All of this, of course, is largely dependent on those ankles, though.
If he’s able to stay healthy, this is as good an opportunity for a bounce back as Williams may have been able to find. Carlisle has clashed with point guards in the past (Rondo and Darren Collison), but he’s also helped those who were willing to embrace his coaching and schemes (Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, Ellis and to some extent, O.J. Mayo).
Assuming the last few years with the Nets have humbled Williams, he may be ready to listen.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.