The kid is 21 years old. Last year, he was the youngest Net player in the last 25 years. But much is expected of Marcus Williams. It's not that the Nets expect him to replace Jason Kidd, just back him up...at least for now.
At the end of last season, Ed Stefanski summed up those expectations.
"The talent is undeniable." said the Nets GM. "He has the coaching, the teammates, the role model. But now it's a case of whether he goes after it. Not all rookies have to go through this, but there's no question from a personnel standpoint that this kid has high upside, all those things. Now he has to put in the time and effort."
Reports out of the Nets practice facility are positive. He looks slimmer, better conditioned, more confident. Dave D'Alessandro of the Star Ledger says he's been outplaying the other young vets "by a fair margin". It was the same in summer league where he looked like one of the best players in the six team field, even at 21 years old.
Yet that was the case a year ago as well. He dominated the summer league, wowed them in training camp, then looked like a high lottery pick in preseason, averaging more points, rebounds and assists combined than any other rookie. NBA.com's Rookie Report named him the league's top newcomer in preseason, asserting, he was "exactly what [the Nets have] been looking for". He was so promising in fact that Kidd's two backups decided to leave New Jersey, Jacque Vaughn for San Antonio (and a ring) and Zoran Planinic for Vitoria, Spain.
After opening night, coach Lawrence Frank and Kidd were still gushing.
"Marcus, he’s got wisdom beyond his years, just from an organizational standpoint," Frank said then. "There aren’t very many rookie point guards that have the cerebral skills that this guy has. It’s very impressive."
"I thought he was great," Kidd said of his protege that first night. "I told him after the game, ‘Don’t worry about the shots you missed because nobody will remember those. Stay aggressive. Stay confident and play your game. At the end of the day, you’re going to have those same shots and we feel confident you’ll knock them down when we need it.’ But he’s got a lot of confidence and he understands how to play. The pass he made to Krstic on the run was unbelievable. A rookie just doesn’t do that in this league. He’s one of the top passers in this game."
High praise indeed from a point guard's best possible role model.
Then, as the season wore on, and he wore down, Williams began to lose playing time and confidence. Physically, he was out of shape, unprepared for the rigors and toll of a 100-game season, from pre-season to playoffs. And his defense was dreadful. So much so that during the late stages of the season and the playoffs, Vince Carter became the primary backup at the point.
During the playoffs, Williams admitted his confidence was "probably at an all-time low." It probably sank lower after Frank pulled him following a 2:25 first-half stint in Game 3 of the Cavs' series and used Carter instead.
The question now is, did Williams raise too many expectations last year and is he raising them again, only to ultmately leave the team--and its fans--disapointed? There are a lot of indicators that Williams will be better, maybe a lot better, and that his first season wasn't a bust anyway.
First off, it is one of the axioms of the game that, with the rare exception, point guards take time to develop, that between their rookie and sophomore years, the lessons of that first season begin to sink in, upstairs.
One way to look at it: Although Williams' numbers were not that much different than his mentor's first season in Dallas 13 years ago, once you factor in the disparity in minutes.
Williams averaged more points per 48 minutes than Kidd (19.7 to 16.6) and almost as many assists (9.5 to 10.9) per 48 in their rookie years. Williams wasn't even that far behind young Kidd in rebounding. Kidd averaged 7.7 per 48, Williams 6.0. In terms of turnovers, Williams averaged 5.1 per 48 minutes, Kidd 4.5, not much of a difference.
Shooting percentages were very equivalent...and dismal. Both shot less than 40% overall and less than 30% from beyond the arc. Williams shot 39.5% overall, Kidd 38.5%. Williams shot 28.2% from beyond the arc, Kidd 27.2%
And none of Kidd's previous backups with the Nets exceeded Williams' actual numbers from last season. Travis Best averaged the same 6.8 points per game in 2004-05 but he also started some games while Kidd was recovering from microfracture surgery...and he didn't even average two assists per game compared to Williams 3.3 in fewer minutes. Vaughn and Anthony Johnson brought great veteran presence, but never averaged better than three points a game, Planinic never better than five. Jeff McInnis? Please.
Finally, among backup point guards, Williams was second in total assists, after the Raptors' Jose Calderon, the league's top backup PG.
So what's next?
No doubt, his biggest problem was and--until proven otherwise--is defense. His performance on the other end of the court fulfilled a prediction made by a scout after watching him in the summer league "couldn't guard a bank with a machine gun". Physically, as well as emotionally, he was immature.
But one positive sign in his growth is that he now admits it. He has said he was surprised at the toll 100 games had taken on him and he said that his confidence was shot. No false bravado.
But the Nets remain confident in him. Not long ago, Nets President Rod Thorn told WFAN that if Williams were starting in the NBA, he'd be averaging around 14 points per game and be in the top five in assists.
Kidd, like Deron Williams and a LOT of other point guards, made great strides his second year. Prepare to be surprised.