Dec 17, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) dribbles against Portland Trail Blazers point guard Mo Williams (25) in the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers: Mo Williams Hurts Defense


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.

So…alternatives?

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.

 

Tags: Cj Mccollum Featured Mo Williams Popular Portland Trail Blazers

  • Draftdog

    Mo Williams is the Blazers best available option. McCollum’s ceiling isn’t Mo in his prime. It is Mo today. His college steals are irrelevant. He was stealing the ball from college kids. His lack of quickness will limit that feature of his game in the NBA. McCollum is a slow, short shooting guard in a point guard’s body. He will be worse than Mo. He will be an inexperience Mo. Plus he is a ball dominate player and quite frankly he isn’t good enough to win while dominating the ball in the NBA. The alternative to what is working right now would be to go back to overusing Lillard as Stotts did last year.

    One of the poorer articles of the RCP.

    • Julian Reed

      The article isn’t really about McCollum, and those are the same criticisms Lillard got when he was drafted. Williams is the worst rotation player on the team, so his spot as the backup PG would be the easiest to shore up one way or another. I’m not saying McCollum is the answer (my exact words were “I don’t know”), but he’s certainly the most attractive in-house option. I agree that he’s probably not quick enough–Stotts likes to have PGs dart above screens, so speed is the most important attribute for a point guard in the Stotts defense.

      • Draftdog

        McCollum’s greatest weakness is his lack of quickness. Lillard never had that disadvantage or criticism. The draft day comparisons with Lillard were a reach. After seeing him in summer league….let’s just say he isn’t in Lillards league. My point is that Mo is now and into the foreseeable future the best option at the Blazers disposal despite his defensive liability. And yes, I was very disappointed when the Blazers called McCollum’s name. I am no prognosticator of NBA talent but I felt then and now Olshey blundered. For the Blazers sake I hope he is right.