The Charlotte Hornets have been frustratingly inconsistent so far this season. Marvin Williams hasn't been the same player he was last year. Those two facts are related, but can Williams return to the kind of play that earned him a big contract in the offseason?
It’s been an uneven season for the Hornets, one marked by several games of good basketball separated by multi-game losing streaks. They’ve dealt with some injuries to important players, but that’s not their main issue. Steve Clifford hasn’t been shy about pointing out his team’s lack of toughness, but that’s not the whole story either.
The fact is, there’s plenty of reasons for inconsistent play. One of those is disappointing play from one of their most important pieces – starting power forward Marvin Williams, who’s been so disappointing this season that The Ringer’s Jason Concepcion created the Marvin Williams All-Stars to "honor" players that have underachieved in their first year after signing a new contract. Williams has missed six games, but his rough play can’t entirely be blamed on injury woes. Concepcion’s analysis feels a tad harsh, but he’s not completely off-base. The fact is, Williams was perhaps the third-most important player for Charlotte last year and hasn’t lived up to that standard so far this season.
Last season, the Hornets scored at a top-five rate while Williams was on the floor. Their defense was slightly worse when he played, but their offensive improvement outweighed their defensive backslide. This year, they’ve been worse on both sides during Williams’ 27.5 minutes per game.
Williams has had his least efficient shooting season ever so far, putting up a career low true shooting percentage and the worst effective field goal percentage since the first three years of his career. He’s regressed in just about every aspect of offensive play this year, including spot-up shooting, which was one of his most dangerous weapons last season. In his 22 games this year, he’s been taking spot-up shots more frequently, but hitting them at a much lower rate. His pick-and-roll play and ability to score in transition have both taken huge steps back as well.
There are positive signs for his offensive game, however. He scored 19 against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, shooting 7-10 and 4-6 from behind the arc. It was a flash of the type of play he showed last year when he knocked down 40.2 percent of his long-distance shots, and that’s a welcome sign for Charlotte. Power forwards that can stretch the floor are vital in the modern NBA, and Williams has only hit 35.3 percent from three this season.
If Marvin Williams continues to be ineffective, the next option on the roster is Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky has a reputation as a big man that can shoot the ball, but he’s actually been even worse behind the arc this year than Williams. Besides, the Wisconsin product is much worse on the defensive end than Williams, who has the versatility and veteran savvy to be a very valuable team defender. The 6-foot-9 Williams also rebounds at a slightly higher rate than his 7-foot counterpart. That’s not to condemn Kaminsky, a 23-year old in only his second NBA season – it’s just that, right now, Williams is a much better option for the team, especially if he can regain some form he had in a career season last year.
It might be too much to ask for Williams to be the player he was a season ago. He’s 30 years old and in his 12th season in the league, so last year may very well have been an outlier that won’t be repeated. If he can shake off his rough start and prove that he doesn’t deserve to be the league’s current poster boy for post-contract year regression, it may elevate a Charlotte team that has struggled to find consistency and help them reach their full potential.