NetsDaily note: Guest author Mark Travis, from SB Nation's Lakers blog, Silver Screen & Roll, gives us his perspective on Deron Williams, as the All-Star point guard begins a new chapter of his career in Brooklyn.
As I ventured back through the ground level canals of the Verizon Center after Team USA's final tune-up game on American soil prior to the Olympics, I wound up in the tunnel that the team bus was parked in. After two weeks of covering the team in Las Vegas and in Washington during regulated media sessions, it was nice to catch a glance at the players when they weren't surrounded by mobs of reporters, most of them saying goodbye to friends and family one last time before they headed off to London.
While I was walking towards the exit, I saw a woman that wanted to take a picture with Kobe Bryant. She seemed to be alone, so she had nobody to take the photo for her. Desperate to take advantage of her only opportunity to get a picture with Kobe, she frantically turned to the person closest to her: Deron Williams.
Williams happily obliged and took the photo. Not shockingly, the woman did not ask Bryant to return the favor by taking a picture of her and Williams. I doubt she even knew who Deron was. And he didn't seem to mind at all.
Williams was a very humble guy when I spoke to him. While the media sessions were just a formality for guys like LeBron and Kobe, Williams was very personable and down to earth. He seemed to be genuinely enjoying the experience, soaking in the moments that went by too fast four years ago. Williams was very eloquent and introspective during my interviews with him this summer and he was clearly a polite person.
The only time that Williams got a bit surly with me was after Team USA's open scrimmage at the DC Armory. Comparisons were the constant theme of this summer's media sessions, whether it was comparing the Dream Team to the 2012 Team or LeBron James to Kevin Durant, so I got into comparing mood and asked Williams about how much public perception of the battle between himself and Chris Paul has changed over the past couple of years, as their situations changed dramatically and a younger crop of point guards sprouted up.
Seconds after gushing about how fun it was to play in front of military veterans, Williams' face quickly tightened, his mouth shifting upwards as if to brush off the question, and his tone changed completely.
"Who's the best point guard... that's not what I am concerned with," Williams retorted. "I just care about leading my team and winning. I don't care. Everybody else can be a better point guard than me for all I care."
This spark from the usually docile Williams caught me off guard, and I couldn't have loved his response more. Those are the kind of remarks that you hear from players that are on a mission. There was no diplomatic butt kissing about how there are a lot of great point guards in the league that deserve recognition. There was just a superstar point guard that had grown a bit irritated by his current standing among NBA point guards. He may have said otherwise, but Williams was clearly irked at the idea that Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook have surpassed him in the hierarchy of point guards.
You can understand why Williams' name wasn't sitting on the tip of everyone's tongue during point guard debates over the past two years. Chris Paul was traded to the most popular team in the sport, taken from them and then traded again to another Los Angeles team that immediately had the catchiest nickname in sports, a springy big man to finish highlight plays for him and a putrid history for Paul to reverse. Derrick Rose won the MVP award in 2011 and legitimately looked like a superstar as Chicago's leader. Russell Westbrook put up the same numbers that Rose did and became Kevin Durant's sidekick on everybody's second favorite team. And Kyrie Irving exploded onto the scene as a rookie, producing so well offensively that many believe he'll be a top 15 player by season's end.
All of this took place while Williams was wasting years of his prime away with a New Jersey Nets team with a handful of D-League players in their rotation and his best teammate being known more for dating Kim Kardashian than anything he's done a basketball court. There was no way that Williams could contend with all those other point guards from a national perspective based solely on his situation. What is ESPN more likely to talk about: CP3 leading Lob City to the post-season or Williams improving his off-the-ball game on a lottery team?
But then Brooklyn happened. It's not as if we didn't know that Nets were going to move to Brooklyn, but the manner in which they did it completely changed the outlook of Williams' career. Thanks to the deep pockets of Mikhail Prokhorov, some shrewdness from Billy King and the unfortunate shooting schedule for Shark Tank, Williams was won over by the Nets' impressive off-season overhaul.
Now Williams has a deep supporting cast, a legitimate second hand man in Joe Johnson and a brand new, beautiful stage to perform what I believe will be a statement season. Williams was not capable of operating in the same capacity that he did with the Jazz with the Nets because of their personnel, which is why his numbers took a hit last year. Now Williams has weapons all over the floor that should allow him to command one of the league's better offenses.
Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez, Mirza Teletovic and Andray Blatche all present useful qualities as the primary option on pick-and-rolls, Gerald Wallace is the perfect corner swingman for a pick-and-roll heavy offense, capable of killing undisciplined and cheating defenses with backcuts and offensive rebounds, and Johnson is as good as a secondary scoring option as there is in the Eastern Conference. The pieces are all there and Williams is perfectly capable of making it all work.
Williams will be in a much better position to succeed this season, which means his individual production will also see a rise, and I think it will be a dramatic one. Williams worked a lot on his off-screen game last season as the Nets, devoid of any other creators, treated Williams as Ray Allen by running a ton of pin down screens for him. That's the reason Williams' three-point attempts jumped to a career high six per game. You won't see that this season, though that off-screen game could be extremely useful in smaller doses with Johnson capable of distracting a defense on one side of the floor.
Williams' trade to the Nets may have cost him a couple of seasons of relevance, but it is about to pay off in spades now that the franchise, as well as Williams, ventures over to Brooklyn. Now Williams has a real team behind him, one that plays in a city starved for a winner. That makes any kind of success that Williams delivers that much more exciting and noticeable.On top of all of the hype that comes with starting over again in Brooklyn, Williams just had his competitive juices rejuvenated during his time with Team USA, making him even more driven coming into this season.
Essentially, Williams will be back to being a true point guard this season, which is a duty he performs as well as anybody in the league. And as he returns to his natural role, expect Williams to return to the top of the elite point guard list.