Since Derrick Williams signed a 10-day contract with the Cavs, a lot has been made about how they now have three of the first four players taken in the 2011 draft. The Cavs took Kyrie Irving number one overall that year with a pick they got in a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers, and they took Tristan Thompson number four overall with their own pick. Everyone around the league is familiar with these two because of the huge role they have played as starters on a championship team. Without that draft, LeBron may have never come back to Cleveland, and the championship drought would probably still be going.
I remember people arguing on the radio in the weeks leading up to the draft about how the Cavs should take Williams number one overall because Kyrie only played 14 college games and was fragile and injury-prone. Others suggested the Cavs take Kyrie because even though Williams was a great player and extremely athletic, he didn’t have a true NBA position. He was too small to be a traditional power forward but not a good enough ball-handler or quick enough to play small forward. It looks like things may have now come full circle because his versatility may be just what the Cavaliers need.
Williams’ career never really took off the way he anticipated when he entered the NBA draft after his sophomore season at Arizona, and he is now playing for his fifth team in six years. However, Williams has never really been on a good team where he is able to play loose and carefree. There is a lot of pressure to perform immediately in the NBA, especially when you are a high pick in the draft. Franchises look for the players to develop and mature quickly, and if they don’t see results, sometimes their picks get labeled as busts and are moved on from quickly.
It’s been a few weeks since LeBron called out the front office for needing to add a playmaker and a backup point guard to the roster. They brought in some veteran free agents for workouts, but none of them were offered contracts. When the Heat waived Williams last Monday, the Cavs moved quickly to sign him to a 10-day deal. It was a little surprising at first because he does not seem to fill either of their immediate needs as a point guard or rim protector, but he does seem to be doing an excellent job as a versatile playmaker. In two games so far, he is averaging 9.5 points in just over 20 minutes per game while making almost every shot he has taken. Williams has also showed that he can adapt to fill many roles.
At 6’8 and 240 pounds, he is similar in size to LeBron. In addition to guarding his normal positions of small and power forward, he has also been sliding over to guard opposing point guards and has even brought the ball up to get the second unit into their offense. So far, he has been a pleasant surprise. He has fit in very well, and his new teammates are impressed with his performance and energy to this point. He is very excited to be playing for a winner for the first time in his NBA career.
The team does have the option to sign him to another 10-day contract before having to decide whether or not to add him to the roster for the remainder of the year. The main question seems to be: Is having Williams on the team worth occupying the final open roster spot that could be used for a backup point guard or rim protector?
The answer may be that his ability to fill multiple needs may be the reason why he is the guy for the spot. When the rotation gets tightened during the postseason, guys like Jordan McRae, Kay Felder, DeAndre Liggins and James Jones probably won’t see the floor much if at all, but Derrick Williams has the versatility to really contribute in a number of different ways. Plus, I doubt LeBron and Kyrie will both be off the floor at the same time much in the playoffs, so a backup point guard probably won’t be of the highest importance at that time if Iman Shumpert and JR Smith are healthy.
Williams helps them match up well against the Warriors small lineups because he has the athleticism to guard multiple positions and the length and strength to make it hard for them to operate. He could guard guys like Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, or even Shaun Livingston while having the offensive skill set to make them expel energy on the defensive end. The Cavs even tried a tall “small ball” lineup last night with Williams, LeBron, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson, and Channing Frye playing in the same lineup. They have size but also the ability to run and space the floor.
I think the Cavs should lock up Williams because he could be a valuable rotational piece on the team. Besides, if the Cavs want to make a move for a backup point guard or another post player, they will probably be trading Birdman or McRae anyways. If they were interested in one of the veteran free agents, they would have signed one of them by now.