Is Mo Williams useful at all? By most measures, Mo Williams is the worst rotation player on the team. In an offense as potent as Portland’s, an Offensive Rating of 99 sticks out like an inefficient thumb. If you’re a fan of on/off stats, no rotation player damages the team’s defense more than Williams does (I’m not counting Thomas Robinson, who seems to have lost favor with Terry Stotts recently and has played fewer than half the minutes that Williams has). He has a higher turnover rate than any rotation player outside of Joel Freeland, who uses about half as many possessions as Williams.
Since it really makes no sense to dissect his offense when Portland still has a massive lead over the Heat as the league’s best offensive team, I’m going to focus on the defense. Per 82games (not totally up to date, granted), opposing point guards post a PER of 20.3 against him. For reference, Damian Lillard is at 20.5 right now, and Steve Nash’s career PER is 20.0.
A few days back, Sam Tongue and Dave Deckard at Blazer’s Edge defended Williams, saying that the team needs a spark, someone who can do anything off the bench. Dave pointed to a moment in Detroit, when the team was trailing and listless and Williams hit a couple shots to resuscitate them. That’s fine, that’s true, but it’s just as bad when he does the exact opposite on the other end.
WIlliam’s defense was on full display against the Pelicans when he gave up three pointless fouls in about three minutes in the fourth quarter, nearly putting the Blazers into the penalty by himself. In what ended up being a three-point game, a few extra foul shots would have been huge. He was a spark for sure, but the kind that brought down the Hindenburg. On balance he’s a bad player right now, and the Blazers need to figure out what to do with them.
The most attractive option is the now-practicing CJ McCollum. A couple weeks ago, I wrote that I seriously doubted that McCollum would be able to slide right into playing time upon returning. After that, though? I frankly had no idea what McCollum’s defense was like, so I searched around for some scouting reports. A quote from the first one I saw: “NBA CEILING: Mo Williams.” Welp.
That’s not really a bad thing, just a funny one. Mo was an excellent player in his prime. Anyway, the general consensus seems to be that he’ll have trouble with quicker NBA point guards. Will that be better than a slow, old Mo Williams? I don’t know. What intrigues me about him is the steals. He averaged 2.5 and 2.6 steals per game his last two full years in college, which could provide a boost to a defense that ranks dead last in the league in forcing turnovers.
McCollum aside, there’s no one currently outside the rotation who could help on defense without killing the offense. Earl Watson ain’t gonna happen, and there are no other point guards on the team.
82games indicates that the Blazers might benefit from sticking him at the shooting guard position. His PER shoots up from 9.4 at the 1 to a still-dismal 11.6 at the 2, and opposing shooting guards don’t morph into Monstars against him. It’s probably still too early to tell, but it might be a possibility. The problem is that the Blazers don’t like to have Williams run the point in Williams-Lillard lineups because they like his playmaking better; it’s to give Lillard a rest. Playing Williams at the two defeats the purpose.
So it looks like this might be a problem for the trade deadline.
They could also try to trade Williams for value, rather than a point guard. I’m against this, though. We learned last year the importance of having at the very least an NBA-quality backup point guard. Leaving Earl Watson to run the point for fifteen minutes per game is one of the few things I can see killing this offense. So we need a team willing to part with an above-average point guard who can defend and accept Mo Williams and dregs in return. That narrows it down to… gosh, nothing, as far as I can tell. If anyone has a suggestion, let me know. Replacing Williams with someone who can actually fight around a screen and contest a shot without fouling could go a ways toward correcting Portland’s 24th-ranked defense.