As the Kings enter the second season of the Derrick Williams gamble, they may soon hit an impasse with the 23 year-old forward. Williams remains one of the youngest players on the squad and has plenty of potential for growth, but the team wants to win now, and his $6.6 million dollar expiring contract is a logical fit in any blockbuster trade. Is it too late for Williams to earn a place as a long-term player in Sacramento?
In a perfect world, Williams could be an ideal 6th man at the forward spots, offering the Kings a scoring punch off the bench who can rebound and throw down highlights in transition. Yet with Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins anchoring the three and five spots, the ideal fit at power forward would be a defensive player with an efficient shooting touch. That isn't the type of player Williams has been in his first three years – he's been an average defender with a career shooting percentage of 42.7%.
Williams' biggest strength is his ability in transition, where his excellent athleticism makes him a dangerous weapon. He's also a solid inside scorer; a third of his shots were within three feet of the basket, and he made 67.4% of them. Outside of that zone, his efficiency plummeted – 33.7% from 3-10 feet, 35.7% from 10-16 feet, and a whopping 28.6% from the three point line. He's shown no statistical improvement as a shooter in his three NBA season, but he's still taking jumpers; his average distance on his shots as a King were from 10.6 feet away from the basket.
Even while Williams possesses excellent athleticism and stayed in good shape, his physical gifts didn't translate to defensive success. According to basketball-reference.com's On/Off Court statistics, opponents scored an estimate of 2.2 points more per 100 possessions while Williams was on the court. His defensive awareness wasn't great on a team that struggled with team defense. As a rebounder, Williams was adequate with 4.4 rebounds a game and a 10% rebounding rate, but that rate was the lowest of the Kings big men (Patrick Patterson was closest at 13.3%, while Reggie Evans led the team at 20.9%).
Despite the major question being "is it too late for Williams?" to earn a role in the organization going forward, that could be flipped on the Kings – can they figure out a role for Williams? Pete D'Alessandro said Williams would be primarily a small forward with minutes as a power forward, but the addition of Gay just 13 days later moved Williams back to the bench and shifted the bulk of his minutes back to the four; basketball-reference notes he spent 61% of his playing time with Sacramento as a power forward.
Worse off, the move to the bench dampened Williams' confidence. He wasn't amazing as a starter (12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds on 44.4% shooting), but when he came off the bench he was less aggressive, less effective (6.9 points on 42% shooting) and was often invisible. The numbers show Williams is a player who needs significant minutes to be effective – in 18 games where he played 30 minutes or more, he averaged 13.3 points 48% shooting (and 32.4% from three!). In 35 games where he had 20-29 minutes of playing time, his usage stayed the same (17.1% usage rate with 30+ minutes, 16% with 20-29 minutes) but his percentages plummeted to 43.4% overall shooting and 22% from three.
The Kings have to figure out the proper role for Williams; he's redundant between Gay and Cousins if he can't offer above-average defense or shooting, but he struggled off the bench. Can Sacramento figure out ways to get him enough minutes to keep his confidence high? Can the Coaching staff figure out how to turn Williams into a competent defender when he's guarding taller power forwards? Williams' has developing to do, but the Kings need to figure out if Williams is a puzzle piece they can use.
Despite every weakness, there's reason for optimism about Williams' future. He's only 23 years old, the fourth youngest player on the Kings roster; he may be entering his fourth NBA season, but he's still got plenty of time to develop. He may end up serving the Kings best as a young trading piece with a $6.6 million dollar expiring contract, but it isn't too late for him to develop, figure out his role on the squad, and earn a long-term position in the franchise.