When Deron Williams re-signed with the Nets this summer, a surge of joy was heard in Brooklyn. They had a superstar player! They were going to be one of the top teams in the East! Maybe their superstar point guard could even lead them to a title!
Eh, well …. it hasn’t really worked out that way. Don’t get me wrong, Wiliams hasn’t been bad, but he certainly hasn’t been all that good either. He might be better than, say, Detroit’s Brandon Knight or whoever is playing the point for the Wizards this week, but he doesn’t look like a top-five point guard anymore. More importantly, he hasn’t looked like one for two solid years now.
In Utah, Deron Williams was something special. He challenged Chris Paul and Steve Nash for the title of best point guard in the league and he memorably lead the Jazz to a conference finals appearance in only his second season. With such a strong resume, it’s only natural that the Nets thought they were getting a true franchise player. But since arriving in New Jersey in February 2011, he just hasn’t been the same guy. Specifically, his shooting has declined significantly. With the Jazz, he was one of the better shooting point guards in the game, with his lowest number coming in his rookie year, when he shot .421. After that, he never shot lower than .456 in a Jazz uniform, and in 2007-08, he even put up an eye-popping .507. He was one of the most reliable shooting point guards in the game.
With the Nets, however, it’s been a completely different story. In the 12 games Williams played with the Nets in 2010-11, he shot a woeful .349. At the time, no one thought much of it. It was simply a transitional period. He had to adjust to a new team, and since it was a much worse team, he wasn’t getting his usual opportunities. That all made sense, and it was understood that once he played a full season in a Nets uniform, he’d be back to his old dynamic self.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. His game was still off in 2011-12, as he shot a mere .407 from the field and looked rather average the whole time. You’d think this would’ve been the point where people started questioning if his abilities were slipping, but you’d be wrong. Rather, another set of excuses was made for him. We told ourselves he was simply unfocused because he was trapped on a bad team, we told ourselves that if he was surrounded with talent, he’d be the player he was in Utah. Most importantly, we told ourselves that the team who signed Deron Williams was receiving an elite point guard, even though most of the evidence was pointing to the contrary.
So, in the offseason, Nets fans got excited. Not only was Williams coming back, he was getting a much better group of teammates than he had at any point in his Nets tenure. Joe Johnson was coming in to put up 20 points a game, Gerald Wallace was coming back to be a defensive beast and Brook Lopez was returning from his season-long injury trouble and would once again be one of the scariest offensive big men in the game. With a group of guys like this, Williams was bound to be extra-inspired and revert back to his old form.
Two months into the season and it still hasn’t happened. Williams’ shooting percentage is a decidedly unimpressive .402. Granted, shooting isn’t the only way a player can contribute to a team, especially when the player in question is a point guard. And yes, Williams has contributed to the Nets in other ways. His passing skills have not diminished at all, and he has been a more than capable leader of the Nets offense.
Nobody would say that Williams isn’t a good player, but he may have reached a point where isn’t anything more than that. The Nets signed Deron Williams with the thought being that they were getting an elite player. That has simply not been the case. There’s only one way you can shoot as poorly as Williams and still be an elite point guard: be Jason Kidd. Since Deron Williams is not Jason Kidd, I’m a bit worried about him.
At this point, it’s completely reasonable to think the old Williams is never coming back. It’s been two full years since he was the first-rate shooter he was in Utah. He’s been given a very solid supporting cast in Brooklyn, and he still hasn’t become the player he used to be. To be sure, he’s still one of the better point guards in the league, and his poor shooting won’t completely stop him from contributing to the Nets’ success. Still, his decline is undeniable and he’s not the player the Brooklyn fans thought they were getting. When the Nets fail to make a deep impact in the playoffs, it would not be surprising if Williams wound up shouldering a lot of the blame.
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