There’s a flaw in the way Hornets play basketball which I didn’t dare to point out as a fault of coach Steve Clifford’s in the column specifically dedicated to his work since I’m a blogger sitting in front of a computer on the other side of the world, while he runs an experienced NBA coaching staff.
Either way though I can’t figure out for the life of me why are we using Marvin Williams the way we did.
Signed as a capable three-point shooter who could provide us with some spacing around the post-ups of the Al Jefferson-centered offense, Marvin “Goggles” Williams mostly was to be found on the other side of the paint during the times Jefferson went to work with his back against the basket.
Note that the first snapshot is from early in the season, while the second one has Jeff Taylor among our starters and is from a late-March game.
That just doesn’t seem like a good use of a player whose supposed to help our spacing. Williams rarely attacks the basket from the paint for a power forward (a low 24.1% of his field goal attempts came within ten feet of the basket, per Basketball Reference) and hasn’t surpassed the mark of two offensive rebounds per 36 minutes ever since his rookie year. I, honestly, don’t know how Marvin Williams can help your offense if he is being stationed right besides the paint and the base-line. He won’t rebound or score from there.
Moreover, his movement suggested that it’s his objective to place himself on the other side of the paint whenever the ball is entered to Al in the post.
The mind-boggling aspect of this conundrum is the fact that we used Josh McRoberts and Anthony Tolliver quite effectively around Jefferson’s post-ups.
While McRoberts was operating in the offense from up top and would frequently enter the ball in the paint from the same left side of the court where Al is posting up, Anthony Tolliver would be stationed on the three-point line across the court to prevent weak-side defenders from helping out on Jefferson.
Tolliver’s lighting-quick trigger could punish opposing teams if he ever laid his hands on the ball following a pass inside-out.
Just note the difference between Tolliver’s and Marvin’s movement. Anthony is hopping around the perimeter like a giddy dog expecting his owner to throw him a tennis ball.
Meanwhile, McRoberts would just wait for a strong-side defender to leave him wide open.
To confirm my thoughts and not just go on my hunches here, I wish I could ask a member of the coaching staff whether it indeed was a concerted effort but it did seem like Williams was hanging around the perimeter a lot more during his second stint with the starters (once Zeller got injured in March).
We hadn’t seen Williams forcing his defender to make a decision as tough as this one by hanging on Al’s side of the court before this Detroit game, which ironically would be the last time we saw Jefferson for a full game thus making it impossible for me to determine whether this was a random event.
An interesting stat that may somewhat prove my point is the amount of times Al Jefferson assisted Marvin Williams for a basket this year and the number of times it happened with Anthony Tolliver last year. Both have received an assist from Big Al ten times, with Tolliver playing two thirds of the minutes with Al that Marvin played this season. Moreover, he has made seven threes off Jefferson, while Williams only made five such long-range bombs (McRoberts connected for 13).
Overall, it seemed like the fit between Williams and the rest of the starters wasn’t there, especially with Jefferson and Williams being a troublesome defensive front-court. We had Williams fronting bulkier fours and he did his job diligently usually not giving up a ton of points in less than favorable match-ups. Zeller though remains the better defender and the difference can be seen whenever one of the two has to hedge certain pick-n-rolls. Williams lacks the agility and height to either seriously bother the ball handler or to deny the pass to a capable stretch-4 while in the meantime also preventing the guard from penetrating.
Us using Marvin the wrong way whenever paired with Jefferson also gets backed up by the fact that only a duo of Marvin and Jason Maxiell or the offensively-insecure Jeff Taylor yielded a lower offensive rating.
Williams fit much better in the Biz-centered pick-n-roll offense of second units among which was one of my favorite line-ups, any combination that consisted with the four of Biyombo, Neal, Roberts and Marvin. Such a four-man line-up scored 107.5 points per 100 possessions (good for the fifth best offense in the league) by placing capable shooters around Biyombo’s screens and dives to the basket.
The fun dynamic of Marvin and Biz, two completely different pick-n-roll options where Biz can suck in the weak-side defender to open up Marv, was able to produce such looks on offense.
A Gary Neal side pick-n-roll with Williams was always a dangerous play due to the shooting prowess of both players.
The reflection of this can be seen in Willams’s on/off court numbers as well. Marvin was a net positive (100.7 – 98.6) for the months in between him starting the season as our primary power forward and Zeller getting injured towards the end of the season.
All of this seemingly would be just great news if it just wasn’t for the elephant in the room that Williams’s contract is. At seven million per year a back-up floor spacer remains a luxury. You, perhaps, should have one if you’re aiming at a title run, not if you’re figuring out your way in the post-season. Moreover, there’s no reason for Williams not to be one next year, with Cody Zeller (or how about Noah Vonleh?) clearly being the better starting power forward.
It seems like we’ll remember him being a Charlotte Hornet for the wrong reasons. Signed as a floor spacer for Jefferson, yet ended up as a 7-million dollar bench player.
As apologetic it might sound, I find his situation similar to the one of Maxiell’s. Marvin played to the best of his abilities. It isn’t exactly his fault that he landed in a situation where he wasn’t properly used.