Bernucca: At $100 million, Deron Williams may be damaged goods

Let’s, for a moment, put aside some of the perceptions about Deron Williams. 

Let’s forget that he eats coaches like they are M&M’s.

Let’s dismiss that he complains about everything from set offenses to background lighting in arenas.

Let’s overlook that he took a little too much enjoyment in swinging the sledgehammer of free agency.

Lots of players have done those things. Players better than Deron Williams, like Magic Johnson and LeBron James. And players worse, like Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady.

And lots of GMs have dealt with players who have done those things. They create a monster, like the Magic did with Dwight Howard. They find a happy medium, like the Celtics did with Rajon Rondo. Or they send him packing, like the Jazz did with Williams himself.

But the biggest issue with Deron Williams isn’t whether the Nets can find him a compatible coach, get his seal of approval on their glistening new arena or seek his input on personnel decisions.

The biggest issue is that Williams may be damaged goods.

The evidence of a dropoff is astounding.

Williams is in his prime. He is 28 years old and in his eighth season. He should be getting better, or at the very least maintaining the All-Star level he has established that warranted a five-year, $98 million contract last summer.

Instead, his shooting and playmaking have been in alarming decline since being acquired by the Nets in February 2011, the clear line of demarcation in his career. However, there is another less visible line drawn so close to the clear one that it is often overlooked. And it shouldn’t be.

One month before the trade, Williams suffered a hyperextended right wrist. He played with the injury, missing a handful of games before opting for surgery in April to repair damage and remove loose bodies.

The lockout could have given Williams additional recovery time, but he opted to play in Turkey despite admitting that his wrist wasn’t fully healed. And Williams also sprained the same wrist earlier this season.

So let’s look at Williams’ numbers before and after the injury/trade:

With the Jazz, Williams shot just under 47 percent overall and nearly 36 percent from 3-point range – very good sustained numbers for a player who often has the ball late in the shot clock. With the Nets, Williams has shot under 40 percent overall and below 32 percent from the arc.

With the Jazz, Williams had 212 double-doubles in 439 games. And if you throw out his rookie season, he had 207 double-doubles in 359 games. With the Nets, he has 38 double-doubles in 96 games – nowhere near the same ratio.

With the Jazz, Williams had four seasons of at least 9.3 assists per game. This season, he is averaging 7.8 assists – not a bad number by any stretch, but the worst mark since his rookie campaign.

And with the Nets, Williams has made at least half his shots just 17 times in 96 games.

Finally, Williams has missed roughly 20 percent of his games with the Nets. They are just 4-21 when he doesn’t play. But they are also just 41-55 when he does.

You can point to many legitimate mitigating factors in Williams’ decline: stability and better teammates with the Jazz, fragmented seasons with the Nets, the unsettling nature of a trade and looming free agency, an extended stay overseas, an offseason abbreviated by Team USA.

But when the decline began is irrefutable. Williams clearly is not the same player since the original wrist injury and surgery.

Right now, Williams is a Ferrari with engine problems. Maybe he just needs a tuneup and some time on the highway. Maybe he needs an extended stay in the shop for an overhaul. Or maybe he is an overpriced lemon on a slow, costly road to the junkyard.

But there is no denying Williams has been sputtering for a while. And at his current price tag, the Nets are stuck with him.

TRIVIA: Three of the top 10 active players in total rebounds play for the same team. Who are they? Answer below.


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  7. Kevin says

    The clear line of demarcation is the return from his second aggravation of the wrist, not the trade, which was 1/4/11. Below there’s some data compiled through a couple of weeks ago that outlines just how blatant the falloff is from that specific point. The guy simply couldn’t shoot after he missed time with the wrist injury. Everyone keeps pointing to his movement to the Nets being the change, but you should have run the numbers from the return from missed time in January of 2011 – it was like a light switch got turned off from that day forward.

    • Chris says

      Understood. The point I thought I made was that the injury and trade were only a month apart so the line is generally in the same time frame. I think lesser teammates are a factor (he has to do more and most guys drop off when the workload is heavier) but the injury is the biggest factor and doesn’t seem to be changing. Thanks for reading.

      • Kevin says

        Yeah, you definitely made that point, I guess I just get tired of seeing everyone reference the trade as a turning point (even if it’s just for the purposes of simplicity) when there is clear data showing that the return from missed time after the wrist injury is the drop-off.

        I think using the words “damaged goods” in the title was note-perfect, because that is the perfect description of what it appears to have gone on a here. A defective commodity was passed/sold/traded, and the defect was already present at the time of the transaction. It is absolutely amazing to me how many writers either miss this data completely, or simply brush it off as “one of the factors” in Williams’ decline and then go on to list the system, his conditioning, etc. etc. etc.

        Williams was special because he was a top playmaker, but also because he could shoot/score at an elite level. Being able to operate at the lofty shooting efficiency that he did prior to the injury not only made him a great scorer, but also opened up options for his playmaking skills as defenses had to respect his scoring ability. When you suddenly take away his ability to shoot, it changes everything. I don’t care if Deron is fat, unhappy, gout-stircken, or even a double-foot amputee; if the guy can shoot everything else can still fall into place. Instead we have to read more articles like the one in the Daily News today talking about how Williams is “burnt out” from all of the summer basketball he’s been playing over the past 2 years.

        To show such a massive drop in shooting percentages following a major wrist injury to his shooting wrist, over a period that encompasses parts of three seasons now should be the only major talking point on the guy now. Somehow you’re one of the only people writing who is even entertaining the idea that he’s quite simply a different player at this point. Until they solve the shooting woes he has had since taking time off to deal with the wrist in Utah, this guy is not going to be who everyone is waiting for…and If his wrist has truly changed him bio-mechanically, then the “Deron Williams” of the pre-injury days simply doesn’t exist anymore.

        Have a great 2013, Chris.

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