On the heels of yesterday's spirited Kobe Bryant discussion it seemed only fitting to go with another character-stamped piece today. The story of Sean Williams is covered in the remnants of character baggage from his days at Boston College.
That issue becomes clearer with each passing day, because with every second Sean Williams spends as a thus-far-out-of-trouble NBA player, one truth becomes abundantly evident: Sean Williams might have been the 17th player selected, but he was not the 17th best talent in the draft class of 2007.
In fact, with every minute Williams plays for the Nets, more spectators get the opportunity to watch and come to the same realization: That while he isn't Oden, Durant or Horford, he could become one of the guys for whom the 2007 draft is remembered.
Williams, of course, fell to 17th as a result of the fact that he was thrown off of the team at Boston College for marijuana use and liquor violations while at school. There were a myriad of questions about his personal conduct while at Boston College and his history of drug trouble that followed him into the draft, and he was likely the most highly scrutinized character of the first round. Deservedly so.
Thus far, however, there have been no signs of any such issues in Jersey. This is big because, on the floor, Williams is close to being the ideal defense-first big man. He understands that his first role as the man in the middle is to lock up the paint against opposing offenses, and that everything else comes second. He understands that he doesn't need to have the ball in his hands or shoot the ball with regularity to be successful offensively. He needs to crash the glass, get what he can on putbacks and dunks and take the occasional baby jumper when opponents leave him open for it.
It is early yet, but thus far, Sean Williams has done virtually all of that and well exceeded expectations in doing so.
In the interest of fairness, even the biggest Williams booster must concede that his rebounding is in need of improvement. His 4.8 rebounds per game isn't a terrible figure when one considers that it comes over an average of 19.8 minutes (thus, he averages 9.6 rebounds per 40 minutes), but all the same, particularly on a team with very little interior rebounding presence, Williams needs to be crashing the glass with greater ferocity if he is going to be the player he can be.
Aside from that, however, he has been a dream for the Nets so far. In just those 19.8 minutes, Williams is blocking 2.04 shots per game. Since being moved into the starting lineup six games ago, Williams has averaged 2.67 blocks in 27.3 minutes per to go with averages of 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds as a starter. Williams has an enormous wingspan, and his leaping ability doesn't disappoint either. Neither this nor the shot blocking statistics has been lost on opponents, as it is clear that opposing scorers have to adjust their mentality with Williams on the floor. In a particularly telling moment, Detroit's Rip Hamilton passed up a fast-break lay-up last week purely thanks to the fact that Williams was getting back and in the vicinity. Hamilton dished the ball to rugged point guard Chauncey Billups, who opted not to go straight up toward the rim but to adjust his arm angle to an off-balance side-arm type shot just to avoid incurring the wrath of the Nets' youngster. The shot fell harmlessly off the rim and into the waiting arms of (New Jersey's leading rebounder!) Jason Kidd, and the Nets started in the other direction. The only part of the play that shows up in the Nets' half of the box score is Kidd's board, but the most integral part of the play was made by Sean Williams. And that was no isolated incident. It is the type of scene that is playing out with increasing frequency in New Jersey as Williams continues to wreak havoc on the interior. Those absurd shot-blocking stats are nice, but they are really only a small indicator of the growing impact his mere presence has the on the floor for his team.
Williams has done what he has been asked to offensively as well, finishing dunks and putbacks whenever he can and generally not making poor decisions when the ball does wind up in his hands. For his efforts, Williams is shooting a very effective 54.6 percent from the field. His 69.8 percent foul shooting is even relatively passable by today's standards for big men. As of late, with added time on the floor, it has become clear that Williams will need to cultivate at least some sort of away-from-the-basket game, and he seems to be willing to work at it. He already looks better shooting the ball from eight to twelve feet, and that is a start in the right direction. At 6-foot-10 but just 233 pounds, he moves with catlike quickness and plays with his own unique brand of athleticism at both ends of the floor.
It is indeed early, and two crucial points remain to be seen: Whether Sean Williams can stay out of the trouble he ran into at Boston College, and just how much better Sean Williams can and will get at playing basketball.
But one thing is for sure: Sean Williams can definitely play. And for anyone who likes defense, he is a joy to watch.
Here's hoping he can start using his brain as well as he does those long arms.