The Quiet Emergence of Jordan Williams

The Nets have little going for them these days. They’ve gone 3-8 in their past 11 games, with two of those wins against the Charlotte Bobcats, perhaps the worst team in the past decade. Deron Williams exhibits increasing frustration at each loss. They’ve been without Brook Lopez for nearly the entire season, have seen their rotation decimated every two weeks, and have put out the most starting lineups of any team in the league. Even the team’s one bright spot, the emergence and success of rookie guard MarShon Brooks, has tempered in the past few weeks as Brooks’s production has turned south.

What was supposed to be a season of possibilities and playoff pushes is instead filled with coulda-woulda-shouldas and regret. But mired in this tailspin has been the steadily, solid play of a name no one expected much from: the other rookie, center Jordan Williams.

Williams doesn’t play much, and his production won’t shock anyone. In 29 games, he’s shot a pedestrian 47% from the field, and puts up a league-average 14.9 PER. His slice of the PIE (a stat I’ll explain later this week) is just 7.3%, below the league average. His weight works against him; his lack of explosion keeps him mostly below the rim, and after battling weight issues in college, he didn’t use the time during the lockout optimally to regain shape. As a result, he sat a few games with dehydration early in the season, and his conditioning doesn’t allow him to play more than around 20 minutes in one game.

But a closer look at the numbers tells a different story. His net rating (the difference between his offensive and defensive rating) is +5.1, the best on the team by over eight points. The four highest two-man combos on the Nets (minimum 60 minutes) in field goal percentage and net rating all include Jordan Williams. Jordan has the only positive +/- on the Nets, leading the team by a wide margin, and currently sports an offensive rating of 108.9, 11th in the NBA among players with his minutes and the best on the Nets by almost seven points.

Now, Williams is hardly the 11th-best offensive player in the NBA. He’s certainly not the most effective offensive player on the Nets. But in this instance, Williams’s production is a key to unlocking his biggest asset — a willingness to play within his limitations and maximize his production with smart offensive reads. Specifically in the past three games, Williams has shown a sliver of what he might become with proper training in the NBA, the type of touch and ability that made him so successful at Maryland.

Most importantly, Williams has made a significant connection with the smaller-in-stature-bigger-in-name other Williams on the floor. 10 of Jordan’s 39 field goals this season have come from Deron Williams assists, five in the past two games alone. When Jordan cuts to the basket, Deron is often the guy with the ball, and Deron’s ability to squeeze quick passes into small spaces means open layups at the rim for Jordan. Johan Petro and Shelden Williams don’t look for the same spaces at the rim that Jordan does, and the on-court result means more points on the board. He sticks to executing the basics (key word: executing), and it pays off.

This assist came immediately after Jordan entered the game. It’s bread-and-butter stuff: Jordan sets a quick screen to free Deron for the inbounds pass, and the attention Deron commands leaves Jordan open at the rim. Shelden may not have looked to score, and Petro would have backed out to look for his jumper. But Jordan immediately looked to attack the rim, and Deron found him for an easy layup.

Another bread-and-butter play: after Humphries clears out to the left side bringing Favors with him, the lane is wide open for a standard pick-and-roll play. Jefferson abandons Jordan in the coverage, no defense helps off the winged-out Geralds, and Jordan attacks the basket for an easy layup. These are commonplace NBA plays, but the commonplace is hardly commonplace in New Jersey. For it to come from a second-round pick? That’s a bonus.

Williams also attacks the offensive glass well. His wide body helps him clear out space, but his penchant for grabbing boards on the offensive end is as much about positioning near the basket:

Watch Jordan Williams this entire play. After a quick post-up look, he immediately looks to set a screen for Deron Williams. Once Deron receives the ball, Williams hides under the defense until Gerald Green drops to the corner, just the right moment to flash to the middle of the paint. Once he flashes, drawing both interior defenders, Green can rotate under the refocused defense to get an open look in the left corner.

Once the Hawks realize Green’s been left open, two Hawks players rotate over, leaving two Nets players (Williams and Gerald Wallace) to fight for an offensive rebound against just one Hawks player, which Williams converts into two points.

J-Will has a lot of work to do. As mentioned, his conditioning issues should keep him chained to the weight room for the summer. His defensive rotations are sloppy — on some occasions, Jordan has even abandoned his man with the ball in the paint entirely in order to cover someone else, giving up an open 6-footer. His post game needs work, and he’s useful for little more than grunt work and garbage points. But for the 36th pick in the draft, you could certainly do worse than someone with solid offensive instincts and a soft touch at the rim.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.