November 21, 2006
A year ago, the Utah Jazz selected point guard Deron Williams with then number three pick in the 2005 draft. In taking Williams, the Jazz passed over Chris Paul, who would later become the fourth pick overall, the top choice of the New Orleans Hornets.
The selection of Williams began to become an issue in Utah and other NBA insiders when Paul proved to be more ready for the NBA in his rookie season. A gifted ball handler and passer, Paul would go on to be selected the league’s Rookie of the Year and earn an invitation to the US Olympic/World Championship team.
Insiders began criticizing in earnest, even though many of those same folks originally postured that Williams was a better choice due to his size, a key aspect of the NBA game. In the 2006 preseason, as Paul continued to show his growth, the questions began once again, as in boy did the Jazz make a mistake. Adding to the problem, by the end of the exhibition season, Paul was being talked about as the league’s best young point guard by everyone with an opinion, and as the league’s best, period, by many others that were more bold.
However, with the season barely 10 games old, a rather interesting development has occurred. The Utah Jazz have emerged as the most surprising team in the NBA, out of the gate with a sparkling 9-1 record overall. Incredibly, the Jazz are even 4-1 on the road, an almost unheard record in today’s NBA.
In the middle of the start is none other than that number three pick. Williams is currently second on the Jazz in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game while shooting more than 51% from the floor. More importantly, the point guard is averaging 9.0 assists per game with a superb point guard number of 3.46 assists to for every turnover.
Compare those numbers to last year’s rookie of the year. Also through ten games, Paul is at 19.3 points per game, 50% from the floor and 9.3 assists per game. Yes, Paul is still a shade better (see why many call him the best in the game) but now folks have begun to see what the Jazz saw in Williams. Throw in two other factors, Paul has turned the ball over more often, giving him a still decent, but less sterling 2.91 assist to turnover ratio. Add to that the fact that Utah is 9-1 while the Hornets stand 7-3 and folks have begun to rethink the criticism. Especially since the Jazz’s best players, Andrei Kirilenko, has been a total nonfactor over the first ten games.
The bottom line is about systems and opportunities. Whereas Paul seemed to fit Byron Scott’s system immediately, Williams did in fact struggle out of the gate. Playing for one of the most demanding coaches in the NBA in Jerry Sloan, the Utah point guard often played tentatively in 2005-06. Most importantly, he seemed unsure of when to score and when to pass, a terrible issue for a point guard as he seemingly often made the wrong choice.
But Williams proved worthy of the pick when he returned for the current season. Given an improvement plan to work on in the off-season, the youngster went home, worked on his game, and came to camp a better player with greater knowledge of the Jazz system. That hard work has paid enormous dividends with everyone equating the Jazz 2006 start with the emergence of Williams at the point.
Earlier in the season, the Boston Celtics saw the development in Williams first hand when the Jazz visited Boston. Williams had a monster game, 26 points and 14 assists in a Utah win. Most significantly, the point guard had two key baskets late in the game when the Celtics were making a run at the Jazz. Most importantly, Williams demonstrated the calm leadership that transcends basketball skills, making him a calming force with teammates when the game is on the line.
Now those folks that were jumping on the negative train a year ago now have to acknowledge that the Jazz actually knew what they were looking for. Though Paul appears destined to be a great NBA player, the Utah Jazz are now certain that selecting Deron Williams as their pick is going to also work out after all.