When Deron Williams returned to the court on January 20th to face the Knicks after a five-game absence, coach Jason Kidd decided to take an unexpected gamble. Instead of reinserting the three-time All Star into the starting lineup, Kidd told Williams he would ease back into the rotation by coming off the bench.
Now, five games later, Kidd’s experiment appears to be paying dividends. Williams has refocused his game as a sixth man. No longer looking to carry his offense’s scoring load, Williams has upped his assist totals from 6.9 as a starter to 8.2 off the bench (simultaneously decreasing his turnovers from 2.8 to 2.0) — pacing Brooklyn to a 4-1 record.
His minutes haven’t decreased — he’s still right around 30 per game — but his production in every category but scoring has exploded. Against lesser talent on opposing teams’ benches, Williams has used his size and skill to overpower his opponents. His rebounding totals have nearly doubled from 2.2 to 3.8 and he’s stealing the ball more effectively as well.
But Williams’ impact as a sixth man isn’t limited to his own individual stats.
Since the 29-year-old returned from injury, enigmatic teammate Andray Blatche has averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in just 25 minutes per game. Blatche has always been considered a volume scorer and was forced to assume a larger role in his team’s offense after Brook Lopez went down for the season with a foot injury. With Williams facilitating, Blatche has become a rather efficient scorer. He’s shooting 58% from the field since Williams’ return.
Fortunately for the Nets, Williams’ game compliments Shaun Livingston’s style extremely well. Livingston is 6-7 with a near 7-foot wingspan which enables him to defend bigger guards. He also has an tireless motor on defense and can assume tougher defensive responsibilities, taking that task away from Williams. On offense, Livingston has great court vision and can often set Williams up for open shots.
This gives Williams more energy to do what he does best — make plays on offense. Per NetsDaily.com, the Nets’ Livingston-Williams-Johnson-Pierce-Garnett lineup has yielded a cumulative net rating of +11 points, a team best.
Reed Wallach of SBNation broke down some game film that really hammer these points home:
Sure, five games is a small sample size to draw definitive conclusions. And sure, the Nets’ season started to turn around weeks before Williams was inserted as the team’s sixth man. However, at this point, Williams in a permanent sixth man role looks like it could make the Nets a serious threat to the Pacers and Heat out East.
Now, on to the rankings.
DROPOUTS: Manu Ginobili (2): Unfortunately for Ginobili, a hamstring injury that is expected to sideline him for 3-4 weeks will probably put the nail in the coffin for his Sixth Man candidacy. Conservatively speaking, he’ll miss at least 10 games. That’s simply too many to overcome for a player who didn’t necessarily have a lead to begin with.
Nick Young (5).
FIVE TO WATCH: Rodney Stuckey, G, Detroit; Vince Carter, F, Dallas; Luis Scola, F, Indiana; Nate Robinson, G, Denver; Taj Gibson, F, Chicago.