Editor’s note: This is the seventh in the annual series from Salt City Hoops ranking the current players on the Utah Jazz roster. Throughout the preseason, we’ll count up through the current Jazz roster, from worst to first, profiling each player as we go along. The profiles are individually written by Salt City Hoops’ staff of writers, while the ranking was selected by me (Andy Larsen). To go through JazzRank articles from this or past preseasons, visit our JazzRank category page. Marvin Williams is #7.
If you believed the summer 2012 rhetoric about Marvin Williams (and let’s be honest, most of you did), the move to the mountains was supposed to work wonders for the former #2 pick. The story went like this: after settling for seconds on a system-less, iso-heavy Hawks team for seven seasons, the Jazz’s structure was supposed to get more out of Marvin than Atlanta ever got.
And all that might have been true if the Jazz were still the structured, systematic squad we imagine them to be, but Marv didn’t come to that Jazz. He came to the JefferJazz.
As I’ve laid out before, the 2010-2013 version of Jazz basketball was more jumper-focused and slow-paced than its predecessors, so we probably all had the story wrong as we looked down our noises at Atlanta; turns out the system-less, iso-heavy team was Marv’s new team, not the old one.
In fact, in many ways the 2012-13 Jazz was the worst team to accommodate Williams’ strengths. He’s primary a left-side spot shooter and a baseline cutter, neither of which are really available on a team where the offensive identify is to stick the ball on the left block and then wait for one guy to create.
The spacing killed his left-corner J. He only shot 67 left corner threes/long twos with an effective FG% of .463, down from .551 a year prior. It also meant he had to move a high volume of his corner attempts (54) to the right side of the floor where he was far less efficient (.370).
Slasher Marvin disappeared, too. Williams got off only 161 attempts at the rim, the lowest figure of his entire career, even counting the lockout season or his rookie year when he came off the bench. In the JefferJazz system, there just wasn’t a clean baseline for Williams to cut or space for him to finish.
The result of all this is predictable: Williams’ worst year by far, almost across the board. He had career lows in PER, win shares, points per game, points per 36, rebounds per game, rebounds per 36, shooting, free throw attempts and minutes played.
It was supposed to be a career resurrection, and instead it was career quicksand.
Hope for a Second Second Chance
If last year we imagined what Williams would do with a second chance, we should be talking about this year as his second second chance.
We don’t know precisely how the system will change this year, but we do know that the ball won’t stick to the low block for 8, 10, 12, 14 seconds. Ball movement figures to be better. However snooty we want to be about Atlanta’s alleged systemlessness compared to the Jazz, their assist ratio over the last three seasons (17.0) is better than Utah’s (16.3).
What we probably learned about Marvin above all last year is that it’s unrealistic to expect him to suddenly look the part of a #2 pick; but he could get back to his Atlanta self, which was a pretty decent role player.
Let’s look at Marvin’s own baseline in his most successful seasons – I would say based on overall stats including PER and WS/48 that we’re talking about 2008-09 and 2011-12. Here is a picture of Marvin Williams in those years:
Another way that Williams’ contribution was limited last year is in the leadership department. He doesn’t come across as hugely outgoing, but he has good knowledge for the game and is generally prepared very well for opponents. In Al Jefferson’s locker room — and, to be fair, partly because he was having a bad year — he didn’t have much of a voice.
That’s too bad. I think Marv is one of the more insightful guys in that locker room, and with the offseason changes he definitely becomes one of the more experienced ones, too. I didn’t talk to Williams a ton last season, but whenever I did, he was thoughtful and thorough, really thinking the game through. When I’d talk to him about different trends in the offense or defense, he’d really analyze things with me and point to specifics (something players rarely do). He has an ability to slow things down and recognize that I think could really help the young stars-to-be on the team. And on a team where he, Brandon Rush and John Lucas III are the veterans, he’ll definitely have that chance.
As hard as defense is to measure, I know two things with relative certainty: 1) Williams had a bad year on the defensive end, too; and 2) even so, his instincts and techniques as an on-ball wing defender are top-notch.
Synergy has him at a pretty awful .92 defensive PPP, but this is one of those areas where I think Synergy has a huge blind spot that’s obvious when you look at play types. Williams is top third in the league in every defensive category except for spot-ups, where he’s 353rd. The thing is, by very nature, the spot-up shooter is the guy who is left open when defenses collapse, so more often than not, an open jumper by a spot shooter is the fault of the helper’s helper not rotating, but Synergy assigns it to the first guy.
In a nutshell, that’s why it’s hard to understand Williams’ exact defensive value: because most of his minutes were alongside the Jazz’s worst team defenders. Even still, the Jazz’s defense was better with him on the court than off (+1.5 per 100 possessions) and there were several games where he obviously limited opposing wings.
If he plays more PF this season, it may again be difficult to rate him fairly, but I think Williams is quietly one of the better wing defenders out there, in a way that the numbers don’t fully show unless you look deeper.
If I’m looking for upside factors for the ’13-14 Jazz, guys who could potentially offer a lot more than we’re expecting and thus help the Jazz surprise some people, Marvin is pretty near the top of my list. I don’t think he’ll ever look like someone who should have been drafted ahead of Deron Williams and Chris Paul, but the 10.9 PER version of Williams who added an estimated 2.3 wins to the Jazz’s total is not the real guy, either.
Williams will either supplant a Jazz youngster in the starting lineup or else he’ll be a top option among bench players. Either way, he won’t be inconspicuously hidden in an offense that seems uniquely designed to equalize his strengths.
Put another way: if the Jazz wind up exceeding some expectations this upcoming season, it’s probably going to be at least in part because Marvin Williams returned to his Atlanta levels of productivity, set the tone defensively, and contributed to the culture in the locker room.