Deron Williams is often thought of in tandem with Chris Paul, and for good reason — before the emergence of the NBA’s new point guard era led by Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, Paul & Williams battled it out for “Best PG in the league” honors without much competition. But as far as his origins go, he’s got just as much in common with his matchup tonight: New York Knicks starting point guard Raymond Felton.
The first odd connection: Felton and Williams share a birthday — June 26, 1984.
Though their NBA careers wouldn’t have you believe it, Felton was the first-ranked point guard in their 2002 high school class. Deron Williams was 12th. After three years at Illinois for Williams and North Carolina for Felton, the two played their final game in college basketball against each other: for the 2005 NCAA Championship. The Illinois-led Williams held a record of 37-1 going into the championship, and a victory would’ve given them the record for most wins by a college basketball team in a season. But the Tar Heels played spoiler, as Felton hit a late 3 to break a 65-all tie and 3 of 4 crunch-time free throws to ice the game and win the national championship, 75-70.
Despite that end result, the perception of Williams and Felton had changed since high school: Williams was the first point guard selected in the 2005 NBA draft, going third overall. Chris Paul went next at fourth, and Felton was the next selection by the Charlotte Hornets at fifth.
A cursory look at Williams and Paul would indicate two similar players. They’re both big point guards, with quickness for their size, good ballhandling ability, and a solid if unspectacular outside shot. A broader look shows that Williams is the superior player, and has been since draft night: for his career, Williams averages more points and assists per 36 minutes, has a higher true shooting percentage, a higher effective field goal percentage, a higher offensive rating, and bests him in career PER by almost five points.
However, that hasn’t been the case this year. Though Williams still holds a statistical and style advantage, Felton has played excellent basketball this year. He’s shooting 44% from deep and boasts a good 37.8% assist percentage (or 8 per 36 minutes), and a 19.1 PER that would rank as his career high for a full season.
Even with his career-best early production, and even with Williams struggling to find his shot, D-Will bests him — barely — in most statistical marks. Williams has a slightly better PER (19.1), a slightly better offensive rating (112 to 110), a slightly better true shooting percentage (.531 to .523), a slightly better assist percentage (40.7% to 37.8%), and slightly more win shares per 48 minutes (.157 to .137).
Even when he’s slumping and Felton is rolling, Williams is better by a hair. This should be a surprisingly fun one to watch.