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It's Marcus vs. Jay...May the Best Williams Win

Nets fans could be excused if they glossed over a series of articles in Draft Express last June on a workout the website’s writers witnessed at Abunassar Impact Basketball in Los Angeles. After all, what were the chances that the players in the articles—Marcus Williams and Jay Williams—would wind up with the Nets? Marcus Williams was a lock for the lottery and the Nets didn’t pick til #22. Jay Williams was talking about working out for as many as 10 NBA teams in his comeback attempt. A realist would have said the chances of either joining the Nets were slim and none.

Well, slim and none will be in Net uniforms Monday and ready for combat.

Although Marcus Williams has been anointed the Nets’ point guard of the future—and will be the youngest player to don a Nets uniform in a quarter century, Jay Williams isn’t conceding the backup role to his workout partner. And he isn't exactly ancient, just turning 25 September 10.

After signing his contract last week, here’s what Jay Williams had to say: "I look forward to it. Marcus is an extremely gifted basketball player. I think he's going to be an All-Star. . . . But every time I lace my sneakers on, I'm fighting for the same thing he is. I want to be an All-Star. I'm going for it just as hard as he is."

Marcus Williams has kept quiet on the competition, but notes that his former workout partner has improved noticeably since they first went at each other in May.

"I kind of know the game," Marcus Williams said. "I looked at a lot of people's rosters and a lot of teams have three point guards. I'm not looking at it as, 'Oh, I have to fight him for a position' or 'They're putting him in.' It's another guy to compete with, another guy out there to play against. I'm not worried about playing time. I'm just trying to do what Coach is telling me."

The two know each other now only too well. For a month in May and June, they worked out together in LA [along with D.J. Strawberry], before heading for workouts with NBA teams. Then, for the past seven weeks, they have been working out again at the Nets training facility in East Rutherford. It would not be unfair to say that despite the small difference in their ages, there is a mentor/protege relationship as well as a friendship and a rivalry...and one has to wonder if their shared agent Brian Duffy put them together for a reason. Jay Williams needed a workout partner who would push him physically while Marcus Williams certainly could have used someone who could push him mentally.

What can Nets fans—and their teammates expect from the two when they go head-to-head? A review of those Draft Express articles—a summary of the June 2 workout as well as separate interviews with Marcus and with Jay should give everyone a good idea of the coming battle on the hardwoods.

Here are some excerpts with full credit to Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony and Eric Weiss.

Marcus Williams on Jay Williams:

"Well, [we do] a lot of shooting. We come down here in the morning and shoot for about an hour and a half. Then we’ll go two on two and at 4 pm we’ll shoot for another hour and a half. So we’re just getting a lot of shots up and really competing against Jay everyday, he can only make me better…Definitely going hard all the time. Going up against someone like Jay and just seeing his work ethic on the court and in the weight room, I mean going against him everyday I have to go hard or I’ll get embarrassed out there.

"He’d be one of the top guards [in the 2006 Draft], I think. What he’s done with his comeback is just remarkable. His work ethic, his quickness, his drive to make it back to the NBA is just great. I tell him everyday "you keep working hard and you’re going to get back in there easy". He’s got to get his lateral movement up a little, but his jump shot is his strength, the rest of his game is sweet. Everything is going up.

"You know, he’s always out there giving me little tips. I’m stronger than most people and I think that’s why he’s pushing me around out there, telling me to use my strength. I think that’s really going to help me.

Jay Williams on Marcus Williams:

"Well, I was in the league one year and when I was going through the process I had a guy doing this for me.

"I like him, I like his size and his strength. I think the more he learns how to use his body, especially in the NBA, the better he’ll be. I like his mentality. When I first met him he had this swagger about him and I couldn’t read him. I said to myself, 'does he really want it, I don’t know.' But, after playing with him and seeing him work I really think he’ll be a heck of a basketball player. I think a lot of making it in the NBA is about situation. If he goes to the right situation I think he’ll be an All Star caliber player.

"Well, I think his speed has [improved]. His first step is phenomenally fast now and especially when he can play with off-ball screens, you really have to try and force him one way. He’s really good with his step-back, he knocks down shots and just can shoot the heck out of the ball. He’s just going to have to get through the rigors of an 82 game season, which is hard for anybody to go through.

"Marcus isn’t out of shape. The thing that people misunderstand is that Marcus plays the game at his pace, he controls the tempo. He’s not going to be a speedy guy that runs around the court all day long, he’s going to be a guy who picks his spots and gets the ball to the right player at the right time. He’s a situational guy, he can change pace really well, switch it up and hit you quick.

Eric Weiss on Marcus Williams vs. Jay Williams:

If one would have simply walked into the gym and watched Jay and Marcus go at it that day, one would think that they were watching two of the most talented point guards in the country. Erasing the names and connotations that come along with that history and boiling the moment down to its pure essence, there was much to admire in the two.

But, we don’t live in such a world. While Marcus Williams is the beneficiary of all that being a highly touted point guard coming into the NBA brings, Jay is busy chasing away the specters of his past. One player is 20, the other 24. In the grand scheme of things these four years barely mean a thing. But, for an athlete who has had his chance at the limelight and fallen, re-emerging from the shadow cast is a difficult battle.

Jay Williams showed almost every skill that is desired in an NBA point guard. But, Jay Williams won’t be judged against other point guards. Every time he steps in the gym to prove himself worthy, he’ll have to battle the ghost of his former self. In the eyes of scouts and other onlookers, Jay Williams will be measured by what he was instead of what he is today. Perhaps this is not a fair assessment of how things will be, maybe a team with an open mind will simply see the skills he possesses and realize how much greater it is than what they already have on their roster. Only time will tell.

While Jay Williams’ game may at one point have consisted of raw speed and power, it now has taken on a much more cognitive tone. Jay Williams is still a physical marvel as his body looks to be hewn out of stone. He uses his strength and physical presence on both sides of the ball and was extremely vocal as well.

Jay Williams was perhaps the best overall shooter of the 3 players working out. While Marcus Williams hit his shots equally well from any point on the court, Jay Williams clearly had the cleaner and quicker shot. Jay had a little bit of difficulty hitting his step back jumper driving right to left, but these misses were shots that rimmed out and Jay Williams displayed all the form and ball rotation any player could ask for. His drives were strong and he finished with a series of different in-between shots, including reverses, tear drops from the baseline, tear drops from the center, finger rolls, off glass, off the wrong foot, etc.

It makes sense that Jay Williams would have developed his shot significantly over the past two seasons because it is probably the first thing he could do on a basketball court while recovering from injury. But, Williams certainly seized the opportunity and put the time into his shooting consistency and it showed. Williams started off by rimming out some of his three point attempts, but finished off with a strong 8 for 10 showing. His ball rotation, arc, and elevation were fundamentally flawless.

In the competitive play, Jay Williams’ experience and physical maturity made him stand out. Jay Williams put on a passing clinic with every type of quality assist in the book. He looped easy entry passes over the top of a fronting defender, he drove right or left and found the spot up shooter, he would bounce a pass to the cutter out of the corner of his eye, or he would cut the bounce pass with the quick no-look that would give his teammate a clear path for the dunk. Jay Williams out-passed the more heralded Marcus Williams and really stole the show in the assist department, showing far more pure point guard tendencies than the Jay Williams of a few years ago who was recklessly diving toward the lane looking to score or simply looking to figure it out when he got there.

As far as motion was concerned, Jay Williams looked controlled and confident in his movements. He used a good crouch and wide footing to keep a low center of gravity to accelerate out of his breaks, and handled the ball very well even when the defensive pressure was brought to bear. Jay looked as comfortable going left as he did right when attacking the basket or setting up teammates, and controlled the ball with either hand. His change of direction and footwork enabled him to get to spots on the court where he could make plays, and almost every possession he controlled resulted in a basket. Jay Williams showed nice footwork and foot speed and kept himself moving much like Marcus Williams.

The most outstanding element of his showing was the vocal nature he displayed on almost every play. He would mix it up between playful banter and serious counsel. You could tell on the court that everything that transpired was important and worthy of detailed attention.

There were not a tremendous amount of negatives to his showing. He had a little difficulty finishing shots going left, but nothing evident from his movement or delivery indicated that this was some type of problem. Also, not getting a chance to look at his physicals, there is no way for us to determine how durable he is now or what possible issues may remain from the past. But NBA teams will certainly look into the possibility of all physical concerns and if he is cleared to play there’s not much to complain about. With 6 or 7 workouts already in the books, starting with the Toronto Raptors, it shouldn’t take long for Jay Williams to find a suitor for his talents.

Jonathan Givony on Jay Williams vs. Marcus Williams:

Just seeing Jay Williams walk onto the court was a surprise in itself (we had no prior warning), but then seeing the strides he has made in the past two years since his accident came as a downright shock.

From the moment the workout started and till the second it ended, there was absolutely no doubt how committed Jay Williams is to the task at hand. He wants to play in the NBA more than any player I have seen train in the past 3 years, and he goes at it with a determination that would impress even the most casual of fans. Williams executed every drill with tremendous precision and intensity, going the extra mile and doing more than he was told even when there was absolutely no need to.

In the shooting drills he showed the best form of the three, but was streaky in the way that he would heat up and then cool off abruptly. He shot 3/8 in the first straightaway NBA 3-point shooting contest, then 3/7, and then 8/10 His ball-handling skills are phenomenal as always, and his personality made this a light-hearted workout when appropriate, but still serious enough when it was time to truly get down to business.

In the 3 on 3 was when we really started getting feelings of déj� vu. Jay Williams got his team off to a very quick start by absolutely dominating through his passing; showing outstanding court vision both on the drive and dish as well as from static positions. Bounce passes, lobs, or two-handed bullet passes threading the needle between multiple defenders for an easy basket; everything was made so simple for his teammates. He hasn’t lost anything in the ways of his point guard skills from his time at Duke, and to a certain extent appears to have greatly improved, and he did it all gracefully and effortlessly with no hesitation whatsoever. Readjusting himself to the speed of the NBA will be one of the first things he will need to do, but from what he showed us here, he is clearly on the right track.

Being so strong in his lower body with an extremely low center of gravity, he changes gears quickly and powerfully and gets to where he needs to on the floor with the greatest of ease. His first step and overall quickness looked absolutely fine, and this might have been the best sign to come out of this workout as far as his recovery process goes.

Further emphasizing the type of player he is at the moment was the activity level he showed. He was constantly getting in the passing lanes to come up with steals, going down to the low post for offensive rebounds, and just outsmarting and outplaying everyone else in stretches with his intelligence, experience and sheer tenacity. His 3-point shot warmed up quickly as the game progressed, particularly from the corners where he knocked down a number of 3-pointers from NBA range.

Where Jay Williams really shined was with the leadership skills he’s always possessed throughout his career. He was constantly talking to his workout buddies and giving them little tidbits of advice, encouraging them, showing them how they might improve on certain things, and seemingly telling them to take every opportunity they have right now since you never know when that opportunity might be gone.

Jay Williams looks the part on an NBA point guard and plays like one too. His full explosiveness might never be back, but he’s obviously coming to grips with that and is learning how to do the little things that most basketball players pick up later on in their career. His lateral quickness might be the thing that he needs to improve the most on at the moment, as players like Strawberry and Marcus Williams blew by him at times with their initial first step. With that said, there is little doubt from what we saw here that he can contribute somewhere next year in a backup role, and there is always the upside of him regaining most or all of the physical tools that made him such an incredible college player to start with. The passing, shooting and intangibles he brings to the table should allow him to start off in a 10-15 minute role, and anything beyond that is gravy both for him and the lucky NBA team that is able to sign him. What's strange is that at age 24, he is actually younger than a few players in this draft.