Growth potential

Publish date:

For years Marvin Williams heard that his team drafted the wrong guy. He heard it in 2005-06 when Chris Paul was Rookie of the Year for the New Orleans Hornets. He heard it in surround sound last season when Deron Williams led the Utah Jazz to the Western Conference finals.

And yet Marvin Williams has no issue with those who say the Atlanta Hawks were wrong to draft him with the No. 2 pick in the 2005 draft ahead of Paul and Deron Williams.

"I think a couple of years ago, [drafting] a point guard was best suited for this team,'' he admitted. "Sometimes I do hear it -- you know, 'Instead of taking another forward, they should have taken a point guard.' And maybe it would have worked out better for the team, but ...''

But now, as a 21-year-old in his third NBA season, the 6-foot-9 Williams is responding to the criticism. He's averaging 17.5 points (a steady increase from his averages of 8.5 and 13.1 points over the previous two seasons) and shooting 55.9 percent for the improved Hawks, who have beaten Dallas and Phoenix amid the league's roughest opening schedule.

"I thought he settled for a lot of threes last year,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Now he's just taking the shot that comes to him, the simple shot. That draft pick at the end of the day is going to turn out to be a good pick for them.''

Williams was an 18-year-old freshman at North Carolina when the opportunity to turn pro -- based on the potential of his size, skills and maturity -- became the offer he couldn't refuse. Williams took the money to help his separated parents (with whom he has strong relationships) and two younger brothers. At the time of his decision, he was competing with Andrew Bogut to be the No. 1 pick, and no one then was talking about the possibility that either prospect would or should be overtaken by Paul or Deron Williams.

Just as the Jazz should be applauded for recognizing Deron Williams' potential by trading up to get him at No. 3, the Hawks also deserve reproach for undervaluing both point guards. But it's revisionist to say that they made an obvious mistake by choosing Marvin Williams: Had they used that pick on Paul or Deron Williams, they would have been hammered for drafting for need rather than for the best available player, because the consensus rated Marvin Williams ahead of both point guards.

"Being 18 years old and coming into the NBA, I didn't exactly know what I was getting myself into,'' Marvin Williams said. "But at the same time, I don't regret the decision that I made. I made this decision based on my family. Nobody in the world knows my family situation unless you know me. That's what I had to do. I made the best choice for my family, and if I could go back in time, I would do it again.''

It's also fair to say that negative first impressions of Williams were emphasized by his playing for a young one-on-one team. Because Williams isn't a selfish player, he wasn't inclined to demand or fight for opportunities to show what he could do. As a result, he often appeared unsteady and passive during his first two years in Atlanta.

Now that the Hawks appear to be turning the corner -- or at least approaching it -- Williams' skills are emerging. He lets the game come to him and plays with a sense of patience unusual in a young player. There are plenty of explosive athletes who can occasionally outleap the defense, but few of Williams' age grasp how to score within their team's offense. Williams hasn't solved the entire puzzle, but he understands the principles of moving without the ball and exploiting his accurate jump shot to force the defender to play him tight -- and then using a quick first step to get inside.

The irony of his early career is that the absence of a point guard or passing teammates in Atlanta affected his game. Now he is getting the ball on backdoor cuts to the basket or when he's moved to the open space, and it's because of the growth of Josh Smith and Josh Childress as well as the arrival of rookie starters Al Horford and Acie Law, who is struggling to adapt as a pass-first point guard but is nonetheless a better distributor than the Hawks have had.

Because Williams was unable to create his own shot, he heard complaints over the last two years that he was disappointing athletically.

"A lot of people think I can't jump,'' Williams said. "I mean, I can jump; I just choose not to, I guess. My little brothers get mad at me about it. But what is [the difference between] dunking or laying it up? It's still two points at the end of the night.''

He also hears his teammates laughing at his old-school ways.

"I like to get to the free throw line,'' said Williams, who averaged 5.8 attempts through six games. "These guys poke fun at me because I'm always trying to get fouls, but if I can get some early free throws to get my rhythm, everything else falls into place. They're talking about how I'm always flopping or always asking for a call or something. But I just try to get to the rim as much as I can.''

By seeking to play within a team structure and to leap only when necessary, Williams is following a traditional path. When John Stockton and Karl Malone were starring for Utah, coach Jerry Sloan used to credit them with playing "close to the floor.'' They may not have been dynamic athletically, but by keeping their feet on the ground, they created more options for themselves and teammates than if they'd played above the rim, where the game becomes a matter of split-second instinct. By playing close to the floor, Williams can avoid injuries and probably extend his career.

After competitive losses at Detroit, New Jersey and Boston, the Hawks have an opportunity to exert themselves this week against Charlotte, Seattle and Milwaukee. They may not be a playoff team yet, but they -- like their No. 2 pick in '05 -- must now be respected.

"It only affects you if you let it,'' said Williams of complaints that he was drafted too high. "Everybody's going to have an opinion, but I don't use it as motivation or anything like that. My whole life I've used my family as motivation, and I'll continue to do that for as long as I'm playing. I've done it my whole life for them and I'll continue to do it for them. I'm really not too concerned what someone has to say about me or my game.''