The Nets acquired Deron Williams at the height of his game in February 2011, when the then-Jazz point guard was Chris Paul’s natural nemesis, an undisputed top-two point guard in the league.
But while Paul continues his ascension even as he ages, ranking as the second-best player in the NBA by ESPN’s forecast, Williams has tumbled off the league’s radar. While a 2010-style Deron Williams might be the star this Nets team needs to catapult them into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, this forgotten Williams has contributed to tempered external expectations for the Nets heading into this season.
Williams prefers it that way.
“I really don’t think I have that much pressure on me,” Williams said in an interview with Lenn Robbins, the team’s beat reporter. “Everybody’s pretty much written me off. People say I’m never gonna be like I was. I’m on the downhill. And so what pressure do I have?”
Whether or not he feels the pressure, Brooklyn’s success may hinge on Williams’s hinges.
Williams, who has played most of the last three seasons on shaky ankles, endured the worst season of his career last season. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game, both career-lows since becoming a full-time starting point guard. Under 18 percent of his shots have come within 3 feet of the basket in each of the last two seasons, both career lows. Williams did have the highest plus-minus of any player on the team.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Williams shrugged off when asked about his ankle health heading into last year. “It was last year. People will never understand the extent of what I played through, and that’s fine. That doesn’t matter to me. I’m excited about this year and what it brings. That’s in the past.”
But after surgery on both ankles in the offseason, Williams entered training camp as healthy as he’s ever been in a Nets uniform. His quickness and willingness to attack the basket were on display during the preseason. “I’m healthy, man,” Williams drawled earlier in the preseason when asked about his resurgence.
“I’m a lot more confident,” Williams explained to Robbins. “I just didn’t have confidence in my ankles. They wouldn’t allow me to do the things I was capable of doing, and wanted to do, and thought I could do, and anytime you’re playing like that it takes a toll on you mentally.”
“You can tell he has a little edge this year,” Kevin Garnett decreed of Williams. “I’m hoping that that can stay consistent throughout the year. He’s having the looks of the man who’s out to prove something.”
Brooklyn Nets — Rejuvenated Williams Feels ‘300 Times Better’ Than Last Season