On the trading of Derrick Williams
The No. 2 pick is the most bipolar pick in basketball. Over the past 13 years, it has almost exclusively featured clear hits (Kevin Durant, 2007; LaMarcus Aldridge, 2006; Tyson Chandler, 2001) or abject disappointments (Stromile Swift, 2000; Jay Williams, 2002; Darko Milicic, 2003; Hasheem Thabeet, 2009; Michael Beasley, 2008; Marvin Williams, 2005). Only Emeka Okafor, a quality player for a decade who nonetheless has never achieved stardom, can really lay claim to the middle ground.
It is too young to definitely assign any such label to new Sacramento Kings forward Derrick Williams, who recently began only his third season in the NBA. However, you can by this time have a pretty good idea of where on that spectrum he might be. Williams, indisputably, has thus far been a disappointment. The versatility he showed in his game in college has transposed to the NBA only in the form of awkwardness - efforts to make him into a small forward have not proven to be too successful, yet nor have stints at power forward. It is as tough to have a small forward who cannot defend the perimeter as it is to have a power forward who can't make a shot in the paint, and at various different times thus far, he has been both. Williams, therefore, has so far proved only that he needs to start again.
Being traded is the surest way to do that, and in being dealt to the Kings from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, Williams is afforded that opportunity of redemption. Sacramento, in recent history poor at developing young talents or winning cultures, is trying to distance itself from this recent history and create a better culture, a better climate for incubating younger talents, and (not coincidentally) a better defensive unit. This is why they brought in Mbah A Moute from the Milwaukee Bucks for the extremely low price of a 2016 second round pick and a right to swap 2019 seconds - Mbah A Moute, after all, is rightly revered one of the better defensive forwards in the league. New Kings GM Pete D'Alessandro was a member of the Denver Nuggets front office in 2011 that signed him to a subsequently matched offer sheet, and seemingly had not forgotten the virtues that he saw in him then.
However, the Kings also need more talent. This is a more pressing concern. You cannot rebuild something that hasn't been built the first time - the Kings needs to first identify more quality pieces for the future before they can work out how to maximize and compliment them. So out goes the Fresh Prince again in exchange for Williams, who represents an almost free and impossible to pas up gamble on a flickering flame that can still be coaxed back to full strength. Despite it all so far, Williams still has a high talent level.
It is, of course, not as high as it should be for one picked so high and once touted so greatly. Coming out of Arizona, Williams had a jump shot, a handle and a post-up game, a diverse offensive arsenal to compliment decent athleticism, speed, and rebounding rate. Yet these skills have not progressed much in his first two seasons. Any offensive improvements in that time have mostly come via the three-point and long two-point jump shot, which has gone from poor to mediocre. Those are not adjectives befitting of a No. 2.
What Williams does seem to have made some strides towards thus far in his career is his defense. Williams' effort, normally sufficient, is now aided by better awareness and fundamental positioning, and despite the odd lapse, there is improvement on that end of the court, and it was sorely needed. Of course, the Timberwolves rightly noted that, if it was combo forward defensive ability they want, Williams could never rival Mbah A Moute. He is one of the league's best on that end, and, despite an anomalous decline on the offensive end last season, he regularly contributes enough on that end (career 6.8 ppg, 46% FG) to not be a liability.
However, as decent as he is, Mbah A Moute now joins a team that already has Dante Cunningham. The two are not identical, but neither are the Buffer brothers, Bruce and Michael - even though one is better, you're still getting much the same thing from both. The Wolves' strong and fun starting five are undermined right now by a lack of depth, but Mbah A Moute, duplicating the suitably defensive and tenacious Cunningham as much as he does, does not rectify this greatly. Chase Budinger will when he returns, yet when he does, someone's minutes will have to suffer. And while the Wolves do need improved team defense, hence the desire to trade for one of the best team defending forwards around, Mbah A Moute will only better the team he is on if he gets on the court. If he does, someone else at that position doesn't, and the weaknesses elsewhere aren't fixed.
It is fair to say, then, that Mbah A Moute is not a great return for Williams. Even if disregarding the rest of the roster's make-up and looking at him in a vacuum, he is merely a decent role player, surely insufficient return from an asset so prized. The reality of the situation could however (and should have been, too, else this was an illogical deal) be that Mbah A Moute was nevertheless the best possible return for Williams, so inconsistent was his play and so declined was his value. If his value had gotten this low, and Minnesota felt that they would not be able to rebuild it much in light of Williams's rough start to the season, the strong play of others, and the need to find minutes for Budinger/Cunningham, perhaps it was the right thing to do to take the best offer, however underwhelming it may have been.
But if it was that low, how was it allowed to reach that point?
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