One of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ biggest questions coming into this season was how they’d compensate for the absence of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who’s still sidelined by knee surgery. Would LeBron James and Kevin Love assume more of the scoring responsibilities? Would they utilize Timofey Mozgov more in the post or give a few extra touches to J.R. Smith?
Eight games into the season, Mo Williams has emphatically answered that question by becoming the Cavs’ biggest surprise hit thus far. The 32-year-old is contributing 16.5 points and 5.5 assists per game while shooting a career-high 49 percent from the field. His player efficiency rating (PER) of 20.18 ranks 47th in the NBA and is better than perennial All-Stars such as Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Williams is coming off his best performance of the young season when he roasted the Utah Jazz to the tune of 29 points on 8-of-9 shooting, including a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point land:
Williams has always had a knack for scoring the basketball. He averaged 17.2 points in 27 contests with the Charlotte Hornets last season and holds a career mark of 13.4 points per game. However, Williams is noticeably more efficient this season. His true shooting percentage is a career-high 61.3 percent. Coming into the 2015-16 campaign, his previous best was 58.8 percent during his last stint with Cleveland in 2008-09. Coincidentally, that was also Williams’s lone All-Star season.
Williams racked up plenty of frequent flier miles since that breakout year, bouncing around to five different teams in six seasons before returning to Northeast Ohio this summer. Williams’s experience, in addition to a clean bill of health, are key reasons why he’s been able to turn back the clock this season (via the Akron Beacon Journal):
“I’ve gotten better over the years. There was a point in the middle of my career where I don’t think I was the healthiest. Now, for once, my body is where I’m really comfortable weight-wise and strength-wise and in a lot of different areas. That allows me to play at both ends.”
The improvement in Williams’s game isn’t solely on the offensive end. Never known for his defensive acumen, he currently boasts a defensive rating of 103 points per 100 possessions, the lowest mark of his career, per Basketball-Reference.com. Opponents are still managing to shoot 44.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from behind the arc with Mo guarding them, per SportVU, but the defensive strides (albeit minor) he’s made are promising.
Meanwhile, Irving recently hinted at the return of his hilarious alter ego, Uncle Drew, with the fourth installment launching on Thursday. As for Kyrie’s actual ’15-16 debut, the former No. 1 overall pick claims to have a date in mind but is reluctant to make it public (via ESPN):
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In terms of a date, I do have one in my head, but obviously, I’m not going to share it for a little bit. I think all the rumors that everyone said in terms of [a] January [return] or whatever, I’ll let them stay out there. But for me, I’m just trying to take it one day at a time, and I’m just continuing the process.”
The team isn’t going to rush Irving back, especially given the severity of his most recent injury and his struggles with staying healthy throughout his career, but his comments suggest he could be back sooner than initially expected.
In the meantime, the Cavs will soldier on without a key member of their Big Three as Williams continues to do a remarkable job filling in.