When Mo Williams arrived in Portland, the one-time All-Star came with the baggage of being known as a gunner – a shoot-first point guard who loved to throw up shots. The Blazers knew exactly what they were getting, and for better or worse, Williams has delivered as advertised. Through five preseason games, he is averaging 12.8 points per game in 26.2 minutes off the bench. This is coming, however, on a robust 11.4 shots a game at a 40.3% clip.
Williams has never been an efficient scorer, nor will he ever be. It’s easy to look at the high shot attempt / low field goal percentage combo and grow concerned, but the truth is, someone has to take shots, something that is especially true with the second unit. In a perfect world, teams would only shoot efficient shots like layups and corner threes, but the reality of a game with the shot clock winding down is never that pretty. Of course, I would love to see Williams become a more efficient scorer, and many of his shots have and will drive me crazy. With that being said, his role is to be the spark off the bench, and it looks like he should be able to fill it.
These numbers are all certainly coming with the normal preseason caveats, meaning nothing is yet guaranteed. The unproven and scrambled lineups affect everyone, so I expect Williams’ shooting percentage to jump back up a bit closer to last season’s more acceptable 43%. There are times when he will be able to shoot the Blazers back into games (as well as out of them), and judging by his minutes so far, it appears that coach Terry Stotts will give him this opportunity to make his mark on the game as a sixth man.
On the negative side of things, Williams’ turnovers have been astronomical. In shortened minutes, he has still been coughing up the rock 4.4 times a game. For reference, no player even averaged more than four turnovers a game last season – Rajon Rondo led the league with 3.9, and that was with significantly more minutes (37.4). Again, this is the preseason, but this is a trend that must cease once the regular season gets underway. If it continues, it will hinder the Blazers’ potential.
The turnovers have been a team-wide problem, so it isn’t entirely on Williams, but 4.4 a game is flat-out too many. The experimental lineups and new teammates are assuredly the main culprits, but even taking this into consideration, you would hope that a veteran like Williams could be a little more careful with the ball. So many turnovers speak to a player who is pressing when he doesn’t need to, an observation that seems to be corroborated by questionable shots a bit too early in the shot clock. Perhaps he is just trying too hard, or feels like he has to do too much, but whatever the case, he needs to do a better job protecting the ball.
Mo Williams, has fortunately, been able to maintain his sneakily underrated passing ability. For all of the flak that he has caught for being a shoot-first guard, Williams actually averaged 6.2 dimes a game last season, and is at five per game over his entire career. He has picked up right where he left off last year, averaging 5.2 a game thus far in preseason; this time, in the second unit. This is actually even more than Damian Lillard (4.8/game), who will greatly appreciate the facilitating help.
Being a spark off the bench doesn’t just mean scoring lots of points – rather, it means working with everyone to keep the team going. His willingness and ability to find the open man has shown that he possesses this talent.
For the Blazers, this means that they could have found the key cog to a bench unit that was utterly inadequate last season. Stotts will no longer have to run the starters into the ground out of fear the backups will let the game slide away. For Williams, a cleaned up shot selection and a reduction in turnovers will put him on the fast track to being the sixth man he envisioned himself as when he came to Portland.