After the first game at the Barclays Center, Avery Johnson gave the game ball to Deron Williams, saying, "Much of this is possible because he re-signed with the Nets. He was vital to the start of the Brooklyn Nets."
Williams may have been vital to starting the Nets, but now, in his third full season with the Nets, he is holding them back.
Williams is a fantastic player, when healthy, but that is the key --when healthy-- and he just hasn't been able to put together a complete, healthy season with the Nets. People finally saw a glimpse of what DWill can bring to the hardwood last year after the All Star Game through the postseason. Besides that stretch, Williams has been an overrated, overhyped centerpiece. As a result, the Nets have had similar adjectives attached to them.
What's wrong with Williams? No one outside the team knows for sure. Williams has been battling ankle ailments for more than a year now and this season's round of cortisone shots and the PRP therapy haven't been as effective as last year's. He also admits his confidence is very low and that it 's hard for him to move in and out of the lineup constantly.
I took a look back at Williams' 2009-2010 season with the Utah Jazz to see the difference in playing styles between that Williams and the Williams of today.
In the first clip, Williams gives his man a very strong move, throwing the ball through his legs and create separation. After that he use his large frame to get into the paint and finish the tough shot. Even though a help defender slides in, Williams is too strong to be stopped and he finishes strong at the rim.
In the second part of the video, Williams crosses over and tries to drive past Kemba Walker, a quick, young guard. Williams creates minimal separation, if any, and can't finish with Walker all over him.
In the first clip, Williams finishes through the contact, but in the second one he can't. Maybe he has lost that strength that made him such a force early on in his career; he used his all of his 6'3" and 210 pounds to his advantage.
Another issue is his speed off the dribble. Williams isn't an extremely quick guard, but off the dribble he gets by his defender by ease. At least four years ago he did. His current lack of speed can be attributed to his constant battle with ankle injuries. It sure looks like that's the case. Williams seems very uncomfortable when he is on the floor as of late. I commend him for playing hurt, but he is only hurting himself and the team.
With ankle injuries the most likely cause of Williams' struggles, take a look at the next set of videos.
It's clear in this clip that Williams attracted much of the opponent's attention. Then-named Ron Artest was guarding him on this particular play and that didn't faze Williams. The Jazz ran a triangle offensive set to open up DWill for a three. DWill got some space to take a shot, but it wasn't uncontested. Either way, Williams had enough lift and confidence to pull a three with Artest trailing behind.
The Nets, like the Jazz, try to open up No. 8 for a look beyond the arc. The several screens set for Williams are successful and Williams has space that is similar to the space he had on the prior video. In this case, Williams shutters a bit before his shot, and gives Greivis Vasquez time to recover. DWill still shoots it, but doesn't get as much lift on his shot as he did in the prior clip, and leaves it short.
He's much slower than four or five years ago and his shot, too has been affected do to the lack of lift on his jump shot. However, it has carried over into other facets of his game, like his aforementioned confidence.
Williams takes on five Lakers by himself with all of his teammates trailing behind. Not only does Williams not hesitate a second from taking on an entire team, but also he succeeds in his pursuit to the rim and finishes strong at the rim. Williams showing this great sense of confidence in himself is a sign that he feels he can beat anybody at anytime.
The Nets had opportunities Thursday night against the Bulls to seize control of the game, but it seems that their run in the third quarter when they cut the Bulls lead to three was their moment. Then, the play above happened. 2010 Deron Williams would have given Kirk Hinrich a quick crossover and would have had an easy layup. Instead, Williams runs right into a slow-moving Hinrich and turns the ball over. The Nets never got closer after that play.
It's plays like those above that make the Nets' current version of Deron Williams so frustrating. He shows flashes of greatness and that he can take over games such as his performance on January 2 and 4 against the Thunder and Cavilers when he combined for 50 points and 10 assists on 17-of-27 shooting. However, there are other times, enough times to become the norm, that Williams defers to his teammates and is lackadaisical on defense.
Up to this point, the Deron Williams Project could be called a failure for the Nets, and it will be difficult for the front office to pull the plug on it. Not now, not when his value is this low. If the Nets do trade Williams at some point, it will mark the end of an era for the Nets and a mediocre one at that. The Nets invested a whole team in Williams. They pegged him as the centerpiece of a franchise that was going to change the culture of a rag-tag group of misfits. They have shed the label as a second-rate team to the Knicks, but are they any more than a group of overpaid players who have yet to prove they can win?
The best thing about where the Nets are now is that there's a lot of time left and they aren't in that bad of position. If Williams can put together a second half of the season that mirrors the one he did last season, then the Nets will be in fantastic shape heading into the postseason. But the Nets will go as far as No. 8 will take them, and that is one tough task for a team with championship aspirations.