I like to imagine it all started with a pretty, young and unsuspecting Knicks fan answering the phone. She’s wide-eyed and full of optimism, and ready for a great season of Knicks basketball.
But wait, cue the ominous music to give the scene a feeling of suspense. The call is coming from inside the house, and the caller has a message for our young, naive Knicks fan. She drops the phone and lets out a shrill scream of horror. The message? Derrick Williams could be the starter at power forward for the Knicks to start the season.
Maybe it’s just my imagination getting the best of me, but the idea of watching Williams log major minutes at the 4 is terrifying. It’s the basketball equivalent of a horror film, and a B-movie horror film at that.
For fans of scary movies, the origin story is rarely as frightening as the real thing. That same principle applies here. Loved him or hated him, the college version of Williams at least showed signs he could morph into a solid stretch 4. At 6’8″ and about 240 pounds, he wasn’t athletic enough to play on the wing full time, but was undersized for a traditional power forward. Still, at Arizona he scored 19.5 points and grabbed 8.1 rebounds per game in his lone season there. Most notably, he shot nearly 57 percent from beyond the arc on 74 attempts from deep on the season, per Sports-Reference.
To many, that translated to a perfect stretch 4 in the modern NBA. The Timberwolves selected him second overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, and there was some debate over whether the Cavaliers should take him or Kyrie Irving first. He got to Minnesota, where he underwhelmed, starting only 71 of the 155 games he played in during a little over two seasons before being traded to the Kings. In Sacramento, he started only 21 of 141 possible games. He’s averaged 22.4 minutes per game for his career, shooting a hair over 30 percent from three.
In case you didn’t know, neither Minnesota nor Sacramento had a roster in place that was so good a No. 2 overall pick couldn’t crack the starting lineup with any consistency. The amount of games he started is even less impressive when considering all 56 starts he logged during the 2012-2013 season came with Kevin Love injured. With Love healthy that year, he was struggling to get minutes in general.
In New York, Williams may not have to wait for an injury to crack the starting lineup. He could be there on opening day, and barring injury or a very quick development from Kristaps Porzingis, Williams could take the job wire-to-wire unless the decision is made to go with Kyle O’Quinn. It’d be ideal if Carmelo Anthony started at the 4, but Phil Jackson’s Triangle offense requires Melo to stay at the 3 — not that the team has a viable option on the wing behind Anthony in case they did want to play him mostly at the 4.
Since Jackson is adamant about turning back the clock on modern NBA offenses, pairing Robin Lopez with a more traditional big man in O’Quinn or Kevin Seraphin could be on the table. As ill-equipped as Williams and Lopez would be to handle an offense like the small-ball Warriors, dreaming of Jackson and Derek Fisher going with a Lopez-Seraphin frontcourt is like going to sleep intentionally trying to dream about Freddy Krueger. (Luckily, it’s hard to envision those two playing together all that often).
O’Quinn, on the other hand, is a more intriguing option. He’s shown the willingness to shoot the the three when teams give it to him, and if his jumper improves, he could be a plausible starter. That would put pressure on the defense if teams went small, especially if him and Lopez can’t punish teams down low, but it’s an option the Knicks should seriously consider. It might not be much better than Williams at the 4, but it might be a little easier to root for as long as teams aren’t running circles around them for wide open shots.
However, while Knicks fans are sure to love O’Quinn, he’s better suited to either start at center or be a third big man than he is playing huge minutes next to a similar player. The extra rim protection could come in handy, but not enough teams clog the paint anymore that would require the two big bodies, and neither he nor Lopez are good enough offensively that opponents are likely to forego their normal rotation to bulk up inside to discourage the pairing.
And so we circle back to Williams. Even those optimistic about the Knicks’ offseason are still pointing to Williams as the curious move among all of the other subtle but sound decisions. On Today’s Fastbreak alone, Joey Wagner skimmed over Williams as a placeholder for Porzingis when complimenting the job the team did in rebuilding the frontcourt. Thomas Kenyon and Anthony Beers gave the signing similar attention. Even our Fastbreak editor Jason Patt tried to put a positive spin on it, although he admitted the signing was confusing considering the players available.
Count me as one of the many here at Today’s Fastbreak who felt good about the offseason. That was then. Now the idea that Williams will be starting and playing heavy minutes has me on edge. If everyone is still looking at the offseason with rose-colored glasses knowing he may be on the court for 82 tip-offs, then they’re too busy singing in the shower to see what’s about to happen. Williams is going to come into the bathroom dressed up as Phil Jackson, because a boy’s best friend is his GM.
There aren’t many fans or pundits who believe the Knicks are going anywhere this season, so it isn’t like Williams is about to go full Jason Voorhees on the team’s championship hopes. The stakes aren’t high enough for that type of life-ruining experience. Williams reminds me a little more like Jigsaw in that respect. He isn’t coming in with a chainsaw to take down an organization; it’ll be more about the residual damage from night after night of psychological torture Knicks fans will have to endure.
Maybe this is all an overreaction. Williams is a career nine-point, four-rebound player who’s shot about 43 percent from the floor. He isn’t going to impress anybody with those numbers, but they in themselves aren’t worse than the team’s other options. At 24, there isn’t much reason why he can’t still get better, particularly by improving defensively as he gets stronger and offensively while he continues to adjust to the NBA three-point line. At two years and only $10 million, it isn’t as if he’s part of the long-term future of the franchise.
This could go a lot of different ways, and ultimately it won’t matter much if Porzingis is everything the optimists hope he is. Until then, I’ll be watching the games on high alert. I wouldn’t want Derrick Williams crawling out through my television screen holding a long-term contract extension.