It was a fairy tale story. The guy raised in the state of Georgia, who was a standout at South Gwinnett High School, came home to sign with the Atlanta Hawks. Louis Williams was a perennial Sixth Man of the Year contender during his time in Philadelphia, and the prospect of him teaming up with childhood friend Josh Smith in the ATL had many Hawks fans excited. It all started so well, until in a January game against the Brooklyn Nets, Williams charged away down court, snapping his ACL as he approached the rim. Ten months later, and it was a very different Hawks team that Williams returned to, not only that but on recent evidence it appears that Williams is not the same player either.
The 27-year-old has looked a shadow of himself since returning, and although he has been given plenty of time to work off any rust, it seems as if Coach Mike Budenholzer has finally lost his patience. Despite being fully healthy, Williams hasn’t played a single minute in Atlanta’s past three games. Before their win against the Jazz on Monday night, the Hawks had lost six straight and 15 of their last 16 games, so it’s not overly surprising that Coach Bud was looking to mix things up. Why pick out Louis Williams though? Budenholzer accredited his decision to leave out one of his team’s most explosive offensive players, as an attempt to get more size on the floor. The stats give a true indication of what the real reason might be though.
Williams strengths have never been on the defensive end of the floor. He’s not exactly what you’d call a stopper, and his work in defensive rotations can often seem a little half-hearted. Williams has the third worst defensive rating on the Hawks roster at 110.2. The only men trailing him are newcomer Mike Muscala, and German rookie Dennis Schroeder. In Williams absence, Schroeder’s playing time has increased, which gives an interesting insight into how Budenholzer is thinking. Although Schroeder has a worse rating defensively, he’s renowned for being a pest on that end of the floor. Regardless of the score of the game, it’s common to see Schroeder press and harry opposing point guards for the full length of the court, something that is not the most common of sights in the NBA. Although Schroeder is incredibly raw, and hasn’t quite settled in as the Hawks would have liked so far, he plays with an intensity that the coaching staff clearly feel that Williams lacks.
Williams can take solace in the fact that Shelvin Mack briefly faced the same fate earlier in the year, and has since returned to regular minutes. Mack has been a surprise package for the Hawks, becoming one of the team’s most reliable, consistent performers. This is what made it all the more surprising when after no dramatic slump in performance, Mack found himself dropped. At that time, it was in fact Williams who was assigned backup point guard duties in Mack’s absence, but it wasn’t long before the rotation returned to normal.
With the coming couple of weeks presenting a considerably softer schedule than the Hawks have faced in quite a while, it would be no surprise to see Williams return to the court tonight against the lowly Bucks. If, and when he does return, the real focus will be on how he reacts though. Will it be the kick that he needed to get his game back to where it was before the injury, or will it have further damaged the confidence of a player who seems to already be lacking? The answer to that question will likely determine his Hawks future.