If Deron Williams was going to have his best game of the season, if he was going to return to the place where he was both hero and goat, if he was going to pull a Deron Williams 2008 throwback game out the hat and be mentally tough and withstand the boos and heckles and f%*k you D-Will you’re garbage, if he was going to remind people that once upon a time he was better than Chris Paul and better than Russell Westbrook and better than Steph Curry, then last night in Salt Lake, when the Mavs needed to win to lock up a playoff berth, it was the perfect time for Deron Williams to be Deron Williams. It was the perfect time to break the Utah Jazz heart. It was the perfect time to remind everyone who he used to be.
The glow of the victory aside, no one is fooling themselves here. The precipitous and surprising tumble Deron Williams took when he left Utah and fell down the NBA cliff didn’t disappear beneath 23 points, 56% shooting, 6 assists and a Mavs date with the San Antonio Spurs. Williams 2015-16 season is a far cry from his 21.3 points, 9.7 assist career high in 2010-11.
As point guards go, he is 26th in PER, trailing Ish Smith and Darren Collison. His Real Plus Minus (RPM) which measures a player’s impact on his team’s performance is 0.7, ranking him 22nd among point guards, just behind Ronnie Price. His Estimated Wins Added (EWA) which estimates the number of wins a player adds to his team’s total is 3.9, lower than Jordan Clarkson of the Lakers.
But Dallas already knew that when they signed him. They knew brash, cocky, arrogant, self-confident, better than everybody else Deron Williams was trapped in a bubble, preserved for historians to write about when they consider point guard impact. His three act play, Utah. Brooklyn, Dallas, will take up his bio, both the good and bad.
But this version of Deron Williams only had to answer one question: when the game matters the most, will you deliver?
Last night in Utah, the game wasn’t the entire season despite the theatrical implications. If the Mavs lost they wouldn’t have been eliminated, but a win meant this last month of mediocrity and losing streaks and having to gut through the bad stuff was all in the mirror. The Mavs could exhale. They are in the playoffs, having trumped the odds. They lost DeAndre Jordan in the summer. They lost Chandler Parsons in the spring. They didn’t have an All-Star. Wesley Matthews has had an up and down season, not surprising coming off a Achilles tear. The Mavs front court lacks explosiveness and their best player is 37 years old. They are the second oldest team in a league of youth and pick and roll and dribble penetration and 3-point frenzy. But, they did enough to get themselves into the playoffs.
And last night Deron Williams was exceptional.
His 5th assist gave the Mavs a 12 point lead with six minutes left. His sixth assist gave the Mavs a 15 point lead with five minutes left. Free throws by Williams sealed the game. And he dropped 21 points in three quarters.
You can talk about how Deron Williams folded in Brooklyn. You can correctly make the point that he wanted the star money but not the star burden and not the star critique. You can say he checked out mentally and his teammates isolated him. You can say he devolved into a better than average point guard who used to be great and was heading for the Hall of Fame. You can say he was a coach killer and that he brought Jerry Sloan’s illustrious career to its knees. You can brand him with all the Deron Williams baggage until the cows come home.
Deron Williams was traded for Derrick Favors in 2011. Favors has been in the playoffs once since then. Williams has been in the playoffs, including this year, four times. Deron Williams is not what he was, but in the short term he’s exactly what the Mavs needed. He has had a good year- 14 points, 6 assists- and better numbers than Tony Parker. Now the two go head-to-head in the first round.
Whatever happens to Deron Williams next is water under the bridge. He made his point. Careers can be redeemed. He answered the question. Yes. He can deliver when it matters the most.
photo via llananba