Derrick Williams arrived in the Twin Cities two years ago fresh off being locked out of what should have been his first NBA training camp.
Instead of four or five weeks of practice and exhibition games, the team came together for about five days and started playing games. Boom. Williams brought with him the pressure associated with being a high draft pick—No. 2 overall for the former Arizona star—and couldn’t seem to find a place. Power forward, his natural position, was occupied by Kevin Love. Small forward was a struggle because of his game—at 6-foot-7 and 240 or so pounds, he just wasn’t quick enough to stay with the 3s on the defensive end.
But when the Sacramento Kings host the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at Sleep Train Arena, Williams will have something he hasn’t had for a long time—the feeling of knowing he’s going to get to play, to get some minutes, to get a chance.
In Minnesota, those chances had all but evaporated. Through Minnesota’s first 16 games this season played in just 11 of them and averaged just 14.7 minutes a game, well below the 24.6 minutes he played last season while starting 56 games while Love recovered from injuries.
But with his trade from the Timberwolves to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, he has a clean slate, a chance to start fresh with a team that wants him to be there.
“There were times where I was like, ‘I’m definitely not going to play tonight,’” Williams told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “And K-Love would have 25 (points) and 15 (rebounds). Sometimes you have to come to grips with yourself and realize that.
“That’s the reason why you never really heard any bad things or talks about me being bad in the locker room or being vocal about it. Sometimes you just have to come to grips with yourself and admit that the other person is better than you and you can learn from that guy.”
He’s been told by his new coach, Michael Malone, that he will get his chance.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with me playing 30, 35 minutes, but just knowing that I’m not going to get taken out for mistakes,” Williams said. “They want me to play through them. I make a mistake, [Malone] wants me to get it back on defense, make it up with a blocked shot, pick it up with a steal. Little things like that. I think it just helps any young player’s confidence.”
The Kings need frontcourt scoring and that’s something Williams can provide. Last year when he was playing regular minutes, he averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Prorated over 36 minutes, those averaged were 17.5 and 8.1.
The Kings could live with that, considering what they’ve gotten from the power forward position this season.
Jason Thompson has averaged 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 19.8 minutes a game. Patrick Patterson is at 6.8 points and 4.9 rebounds in 23.6 minutes.
So if Williams can produce even at last year’s level, it’s a push. And if he exceeds those marks it’s a plus for the Kings—and a sign that new general manager Pete D’Alessandro might have the art of the deal down.
He traded two future second-round picks to the Milwaukee Bucks in July for Luc Mbah a Moute. On Tuesday, he flipped Mbah a Moute to Minnesota for a No. 2 overall pick in Williams.
If Williams can live up to some of that potential, that’s not a bad deal. I think most teams would swap two seconds for a dependable frontcourt starter.
All Williams has to do is pull off the whole dependable frontcourt starter thing.