3) A hoppier Deron Williams.
Call a paranormal activity investigator: the Nets are being haunted. In a good way. By the ghost of 2006 Deron Williams.
Williams has a history of miraculously coming alive after the All-Star Break. In 2013, he found his way with the help of some powerful juice. Who knows what happened to Williams over All-Star weekend this year. Maybe he watched this on repeat for ten days while performing visualization and positive thinking exercises:
Maybe he rested his ankles. Maybe he breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t have to buy a house in Sacramento. Maybe he escaped the snow. Maybe he just drank some more juice.
Whatever he did, it’s working. Williams looks like a decidedly different guy the last couple of weeks. No more indecision. No more lulls in confidence. No more avoiding the rim. If Williams was chugging along at 20 mph before the break, he’s kicked it seriously into gear and he’s weaving in and out of traffic now at 110 mph.
The improvement is visible, dramatic, and it’s not limited to just one facet of the game. If Williams’ game was a mildly sick patient with a few different aches and pains, it’s as if all his maladies were simultaneously cured, then he took a lot of supplemental vitamins, then he strapped on a jetpack.
Williams has pep in his step. He’s noticeably lighter on his feet, popping off pick-and-rolls, turning the corner and exploding to the rim. He’s bouncing around the offensive end with supreme and unwavering confidence. Against Dallas on Saturday, he lit it up from three-point range. He’s getting into his assignment on the defensive end. Given the rate of improvement in the last two weeks, I’m getting mentally prepared to see this in March.
In the Nets’ five games since the break, Williams has posted the following lines:
LAL, 2/20: 12 points, 15 assists
DEN, 2/23: 16 points, 12 assists
NO, 2/25: 10 points, 6 assists
HOU, 2/27: 15 points, 3 assists
DAL, 2/28: 23 points[note]The Nets issued a correction Monday afternoon. Williams was originally credited with 25 points.[/note], 6 rebounds
More importantly, in the five games since the break, Williams has averaged 6.8 points per game in the paint, double his output before the break. That’s no coincidence. Williams is using his renewed agility to beat his primary defender, get into the teeth of the defense, and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
It’s also rendered the offense immeasurably more fluid and exciting. For long stretches of his Brooklyn tenure, Williams has been reticent to attack the rim, perhaps because his lingering ankle problems wouldn’t let him beat his defender off the dribble or elevate. Now, the ball is moving, teammates are finding themselves with open shot opportunities, while the defense chases Williams around the paint.
It’s been exciting to watch the revived Williams find his confidence and his stride. It’s coinciding with renewed team success, the arrival of Thaddeus Young, and the return to smallball. Markel Brown is playing more. The Nets are running a lot. They’re clearly having fun. If Williams continues at this clip, the rest of the year will feature good things to come.
Let’s look at a few tangible examples of the rejuvenated Williams. These are plays he was not making before the break.
Play 1: Williams switches on the jets vs. J.J. Barea, turning the corner and taking two dribbles before finishing at the rim. Notice not just the ease with which he passes Barea, but also the healthy lift off the floor on the layup.
Play 2: Williams encounters a double-team on the strong-side left wing from Rajon Rondo and Dirk Nowitzki. Instead of swinging the ball to a teammate, he powers down the baseline past both defenders and hooks in a nifty reverse layup in Nowitzki’s face.
Play 3: Williams gets his hands in the passing lane, deflects a pass and takes it all the way for a layup in traffic. The old Williams may have retreated to the perimeter and waited for his teammates to join the possession.
Vs. Los Angeles
Play 1: Williams reverses direction, pivots off his left ankle, curls into the lane and finishes with a floater.
Play 2: Shortly after play 1, Williams powers to his left towards the rim with intent to wreak havoc, spins in the lane and finds Bogdanovic for a layup.
Play 3: This is just awesome engagement on the defensive end. Shows confidence.
Play 4: Crosses Jeremy Lin over twice, then gets to his spot and nails the jumper (again, notice the newfound lift on the jump shot).
Play 5: Williams drives left into a pick-and-roll, then turns his back to the rim and reverses course, then curls all the way to his right into the lane and finishes over two defenders.
More from Devin Kharpertian:
Before the All-Star Break, the Nets averaged 1.17 points per possession on Deron Williams drives, and he drove to the basket just under seven times per game. Since the break, he’s driving to the basket a full 10 times per game, and the Nets have scored 1.42 points per possession, according to STATS LLC. He’s been a different, more aggressive player. The Nets go as Deron Williams goes — and if he can lead like this, he should lead them into the playoffs.