Summer Work Paying Early Dividends For Young Hawk

A Daily Babble Production

The personnel may have been similar, but the Atlanta Hawks team that strolled into the TD Banknorth Garden last Wednesday night had a different look to it than the one that left 34-point losers in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals this past spring.  Despite the injury to the team's second-best player in Josh Smith, the Hawks that visited last week were more confident and composed and more efficient at both ends of the court than the team that lost four times on the Garden floor in the playoffs.  Chiefly impressive among them was fourth-year forward Marvin Williams.

Though the Hawks lost a 103-102 thriller thanks to Paul Pierce's jumper in the final second, Williams made himself noticed with his improved outside shooting.  A season ago, he shot 41.4 percent from the field in the playoff series with the Celtics, and he didn't take a single three-pointer in seven games.  Last Wednesday night, he made each of his four attempts, including the Hawks' biggest for the game, a right corner trey to put Atlanta up 102-101 with seven seconds to play. 

We noted during the offseason that Williams had sworn to spending the summer in the gym working on his perimeter shooting, and that appeared to be the case for one night in Boston.  But as a mention in Peter Vecsey's column called to mind, though we're barely three weeks into the young season, the early returns seem to indicate that Williams' hot hand in Boston may be less the exception than the rule going forward.

Well, the 100 percent shooting might be an exception, but the idea of Williams as a perimeter threat seems like it could be permanent.  Williams took 918 shots from the field a season ago.  Ten of those 918 were three-pointers.  One of those 10 went in the basket.  This season, Williams has already made more threes than he took last season, going 11-for-17 in his first eight games, including performances of 3-for-3, 4-for-4 and 3-for-4 shooting from behind the arc.  Given that this guy was reported to be busting his gut to improve this part of game throughout the summer, this hardly seems a coincidence.

No, the North Carolina product isn't likely to shoot 64.7 percent from deep all year, but his hard work from the summer is helping him establish himself as a threat that will add another dimension to the Hawks' offense.  With plenty of athleticism on a roster that includes Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Joe Johnson, this is a team that can do plenty of damage attacking the rim.  But it needs to be able to keep opponents honest by making defenses play the Hawks on the perimeter as well.  A season ago, the Hawks ranked 18th in the NBA at 36 percent shooting from behind the arc.  This year, largely thanks to Williams' fast start, they are shooting 44 percent from deep, good for first in the league thus far.

In fact, if there is to be any concern about Williams, it is that he must be wary of becoming too reliant on his three-point shooting.  Treys made up less than two percent of Williams' shot attempts a season ago, and 17 of his first 80 attempts in 2008-09 have come from beyond the arc.  At 6-foot-9, this is still a guy with the size to be a power forward in this league and the speed and length to be a dynamic slasher.  As opponents become more concerned with his outside shot, it will be on him to look to go to the rim, get in the lane and draw fouls more often as well.  If he can do those things, he will truly have made himself a more versatile and dynamic offensive player.

For now, though, 64.7 percent shooting from deep (and a 58.8 percent true shooting mark that dwarfs the totals of each of his first three years) represents quite a start to the season for Marvin Williams, largely courtesy of his efforts this summer.  It's nice to see hard work pay off.

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