What to make of Derrick Williams?

Derrick Williams chases down Marcus Thornton on the fast break. (Photo: Steven Chea)

The Sacramento Kings are reportedly on their way to trading for a former No. 2 overall pick.  Multiple reports indicated yesterday evening that the Kings are closing in on a deal that would send Luc Mbah a Moute to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Derrick Williams.  Pending physicals for both players, it appears that the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft is on his way to Sacramento.

So if the deal is completed without a hitch, what can the Kings expect from the 22-year-old forward, who has been unable to carve a niche for himself in the NBA through his first two seasons?  We decided to check in with Cowbell Kingdom founding editor Zach Harper, who now covers the league from Minnesota, for his take on Williams.

CK: So first off, how surprised are you that a deal seems to have materialized between these two teams?  Williams appeared to be on the trading block for a long time, but only recently were there rumblings linking him to the Kings.

ZH: I’m not surprised it’s these two teams as much as I’m surprised it happened this early in the season. Trades this early in the season are always tough because most teams still think they’re going to the playoffs and therefore make you include a pick in order to get a deal done. That didn’t happen here. I expected Williams to most likely be dealt on draft night this coming summer and not during the season. An even swap between the two teams and one that I think works quite well for both teams.

CK: The biggest question I think fans have regarding Williams is if he can play small forward.  As you know from once covering this team, the Kings have had a massive need at the three for years.  Can Williams play some small forward for the Kings or is he strictly a four?

ZH: The plan often seemed to be to get Williams to become a small forward. After his rookie season, he lost a bunch of weight during the offseason and had nose surgery to help his breathing. It made him lighter and allowed him to be in better shape, but he still was too slow on the court to play the three. Once Kevin Love went down with his broken hand (twice) last season, the Wolves primarily used Williams at the four. He came into camp even lighter than before and had corrective jaw surgery to continue helping him with breathing and conditioning. By the end of training camp, there were no more talks of using Williams at the three and Robbie Hummel had jumped ahead of him on the depth chart.

The problem with Williams playing on the wing is he’s not a strong dribbler, he isn’t good at passing around the perimeter and he’s not a good shooter. It’s a ringing endorsement, I know. He has one assist this season and it was a generous, home-scoring assist. He’s taken 349 3-pointers in his career and made 29.8 percent of them. He has more than double the turnovers in his career than he has assists. Maybe in a less complicated system he can play the three, but he wasn’t capable or trusted in Rick Adelman‘s system.

CK: With that said, I’m wondering if he fits at power forward next to DeMarcus Cousins.  The Kings basically run their offense through the 23-year-old center, so how effective can Williams be without the ball in his hands?

ZH: While he’s not a good shooter, I do think he’s more of a stretch four than anything else. I know that doesn’t make much sense but he’s actually a solid shooter from mid-range and I think you could see him space the floor similarly to how Brandon Bass has been effective in this league. Williams is a very underrated rebounder, so putting him next to Cousins could result in great effort on the boards. I liked the way he defended power forwards last year, although his help-defense awareness is pretty poor. That could be a result of him making poor or slow decisions. It could also be a result of him being too rattled to just play basketball because he always thought he was going to get pulled by Adelman if he made a mistake. Cousins probably has to make big strides defensively in order to make the pairing work on that end of the floor, but I think it can work on offense.

CK: Another concern regarding Williams is that he hasn’t been able to develop much under former Kings coach Rick Adelman.  What’s gone wrong for Williams in Minnesota?  Why he hasn’t he been able to crack Adelman’s rotation?

ZH: As Kings fans know, Adelman likes quick decisions with the basketball. He wants them to be natural reactions to what’s happening on the floor. Williams struggled a lot with that. He would catch the ball and the flow of the offense would die. It drove Adelman crazy. He could drive or pass or shoot, but Adelman wanted him to make the decision right away and not wait a beat. Mix in his inconsistent defense and there just wasn’t trust to play him over someone like Dante Cunningham.

CK: Williams has the distinction of being a former No. 2 selection in the NBA Draft.  Players drafted that high are typically seen as potential franchise guys for the teams that pick them.  At this point, what do you think is left of Williams’ NBA potential?

ZH: I still think Williams can be a good NBA player. He’s definitely not a star in this league like many of us wondered when he was a draft prospect. But even if he becomes a sixth man, third-big-type-of-rotation-player, that would be a huge addition to most teams. I think that’s probably his realistic ceiling. If he can learn to knock down 3-pointers, you may see that ceiling raise up a little bit, but I think he’s better off being an athlete than a decision-maker while the Kings build up his confidence.

CK: Williams is still just 22 years old.  With the Kings in the process of rebuilding this team around Cousins and Ben McLemore, do you see Williams being in Sacramento long term?

ZH: I think it’s hard to say anything with Williams in regards to long-term plans. He showed some good things last year and a lot of improvements, but he also had zero pressure to perform because injuries ravaged the Wolves’ roster. It’s good the Kings aren’t a real threat to be a playoff team now because it could give him the breathing room he needs to get his confidence back. He wasn’t a fit in Minnesota and that’s OK for his career. But someone has to figure out how to make him a fit somewhere in this league so he can be a rotation guy and not another Wesley Johnson.

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