For two weeks, Derrick Williams looked like a great signing for the Cavaliers. Over the past few weeks he's only seen the floor during mop-up time. What happened?
Remember February? February was a good time in Cleveland: It was one of the warmest Februaries in city history, pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona for the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians, and the Cavaliers were back in business after a dismal January. Cleveland went 9-2 in February despite Kevin Love succumbing to injury and the haphazard additions of Derrick and Deron Williams. It was chaotic, but things were looking good.
Among those things that looked good was Derrick Williams. The too-young-to-be-a-true-journeyman journeyman came in hot. Through his first nine games in Cleveland, he averaged 24 minutes per game. He scored just over 10 points per game, pulled 3.1 rebounds, and shot over 40% on three-pointers. This was out of character based on his career stats, but the consensus was that Williams was finally playing for a good team and had a meaningful role. He was an energy guy and hit his open shots.
Ahh, February. Those were the days.
Then March came and everything went into the toilet.
As of March 30, the Cavaliers are 6-9 on the month and have three double-digit losses in their past four games. The defense has been nothing short of atrocious: There was a back-to-back in which they allowed 96 to Detroit and 83 to Utah, but in the six games since then opponents are averaging 115 points per game.
Rather than dwelling on how bad the defense has been, I have a question. Where did Derrick Williams go? I mean this both literally - why did he so completely fall from the lineup? - and figuratively - what happened to that guy's game?
I know that JR Smith came back into the lineup and the Cavaliers are focused on getting him back into game-shape. Kevin Love also returned from knee surgery and is working his way back into the rotation as well. Those are obvious things that would bring down Derrick's playing time. However, Kyle Korver has now been fighting through foot pain and missed several games while Iman Shumpert has been up and down with injury problems as well.
One of the things we praised Derrick Williams for was his versatility on defense. He's tall and very athletic, so he could "guard positions 2-4 with ease" according to theory. In March, while the Cavs defense has gone from shaky to very shaky to drunks playing Jenga, Williams has seen his minutes almost entirely disappear. Since March 9th, he's averaging about 12 minutes per game, but even that is misleading. He's averaging 12 minutes per game in the eight games he's played - he's fully sat out three times and got 20+ minutes in a 32 point win and a 30 point loss (the latter of which was the Clippers game when James, Love, and Irving all rested). He played 13 minutes in Monday's loss to the Spurs, but the majority of those came in the 4th quarter after the game was well out of hand.
While I'm not at Cavs practice (just kidding, no one is at Cavs practice because the Cavs don't practice), I can only assume that Williams has found a way to have coach Tyronn Lue lose faith in him. Maybe it's that Derrick is under 27% on three-pointers in his past eight games. Maybe it's that Lue believes the shooting guard quagmire (JR, Korver, Shumpert, Deron/Kyrie playing together) is more important and Derrick Williams isn't going to fit in there. Maybe it's just that Richard Jefferson is still better than Derrick Williams. It could be all of those things or it could be none of those things, but Ty Lue is certain that Derrick Williams won't help right now.
I hope Tyronn Lue proves me wrong. I'm not terribly confident in him and I haven't been for quite some time. He seemingly forgets about certain guys on his bench, as shown by the up-and-down minute totals for guys like Williams, Frye, and Jefferson (side note: Frye's minute totals from his past six games are 27, 13, 22, 0, 6, and 22. Yikes). He clearly isn't motivating his guys, as shown by getting on their cases after a loss and then watching them get publicly executed by the Wizards and Spurs in consecutive games. He certainly isn't trying very hard to push the players to right the ship, as shown by how he's suggesting that he rest guys even more down the stretch to get them ready for the playoffs instead of getting them more in-game reps to get themselves working together again.
But that's another issue for another time. Derrick Williams has reverted back to Derrick Williams of old. His career shooting percentage of 43.4% is right in line with the 42.1% he's been making since March 4th. He's putting up four-year lows in per-36 numbers like points, rebounds, assists, and steals. His usage percentage is the lowest of his career so he's actually getting fewer chances than ever before to be productive.
It's a weird time to be Derrick Williams. There's no telling how much he'll play this week and no telling what he'll do when he does. Fingers crossed he makes the most of his chances.