The Brooklyn Nets are peaking at just the right time thanks to the much-improved play of Deron Williams.
His season began on a low note when he clashed with former head coach Avery Johnson about the style of offense the team was running. He averaged 15.8 points per game in November while shooting 38 per cent from the field. While Williams’ team got off to a hot start, 11-4 in November, the Nets fell apart in December, going 3-8 before Johnson was fired, a month after being named Coach of the Month in the Eastern Conference.
On top of that, Williams only averaged 16.7 points while shooting 41.3 per cent from the field over his first 50 games of this season. Those stats were a noticeable dip from the 21 points per game he averaged the previous two seasons.
Just a few months after signing a monster contract extension, there was concern that injuries had zapped Williams of his ability to be an elite player in the NBA.
Besides the poor play from Williams — or maybe because of it — Brooklyn was plodding along with a solid yet unspectacular record and playing well below the lofty expectations thrust upon them at the start of the season. The team was 28-20 early in February and looked to be floundering after the initial spark from new coach P.J. Carlesimo taking over had faded.
Williams has found himself in a good groove this month which has helped spark his team just in time for the playoffs. He scored 33 points and dished out 14 assists in a game against Indiana on Friday and became only the third player this season to post those numbers (along with Jrue Holiday and LeBron James.)
He followed that up with 30 points and seven assists against Toronto on Sunday while lifting his team from a dreadful first half and nearly stealing a much-needed road win.
But, as great as those individual stats are, the team is 16-11 during that stretch and were in the midst of a four-game winning streak until their loss to Toronto. Brooklyn’s hopes of securing the third seed in the Eastern Conference were dashed due to the loss and the Nets locker-room was pretty sombre after the game.
Williams, despite yet another great individual game, was upset about the loss and wasn’t in the mood to brag about his personal stats after the game.
“My confidence is good and I’m just trying to be aggressive and gain some momentum for the playoffs,” a curt and visibly frustrated Williams told me.
Williams may not be willing to boast about his play of late but his numbers are doing the talking for him. Something clicked for him during the all-star break because he’s averaging 23.2 points and shooting 42.3 per cent from beyond the arc in the 23 games since the break. He has found his stroke from long range and is first overall in the Nets record books for three-pointers made during a season (168).
He has battled through countless injuries since he joined the Nets and now that he’s finally healthy, he’s been able to show what he can do on the court. With the playoffs looming next weekend he has picked the right time to get healthy and get into a good groove.
“I think he’s (finally) playing healthy, relatively pain free and markedly different from a pain standpoint from prior to the all-star break,” Carlesimo explained. “He’s shooting the three-point shot extremely well. Those are the two biggest things – I mean he’s playing out of his mind – but those are the two biggest differences.”
His play of late has caused veteran teammate Jerry Stackhouse to claim Williams is playing as good as anybody in the NBA right now.
“Since the break he’s been as a good as anybody playing the game at any position,” Jerry Stackhouse raved to SB Nation. “How he’s played has been indicative of who we’ve been of late, winning games and playing at a high level.”
Throw into the mix that Williams has scored 29 points or more in five of his last six games and it’s clear he’s on a tear heading into the playoffs.
“He has been great and he’s definitely peaking right now,” Nets centre Brook Lopez said.
That praise was followed up by Joe Johnson who told me Williams is, “the head of the snake. When he’s playing well, we’re playing well. He’s in a great rhythm right now which is great for all of us.”
Brooklyn’s head coach was a little more level-headed with his praise and dropped some levity during his pre-game media scrum.
“It’s excellent, but building that bridge from the regular season to the playoffs is an elusive thing,” Carlesimo said. “I don’t think he’s peaked yet. He will peak next Saturday or Sunday.”
Sure, the playoffs are a different beast, but with the kind of tear that Williams has been on there’s no reason to think his hot streak won’t continue.
If Williams can continue his strong play whoever Brooklyn is matched up against in the playoffs won’t find his game a laughing matter.