By Matt Winkeljohn, for NBA.com
Posted Aug 18 2009 2:47PM
ATLANTA -- On the substantial chance that there were no 76ers fans in the gym last week when starting point guard in waiting Lou Williams was working on his post game in a pro-am game in Atlanta, the Philly faithful might like to know that he scored 45 points.
That may be a big deal considering the 6-foot-2 Williams recently said that coach Eddie Jordan's motion offense sometimes uses guards as big men. But did we mention that his primary antagonist that day was a well-traveled 5-foot-9 European pro guard name Herman Favors?
OK, so Philly fans might not be so impressed.
Williams' outburst the other night doesn't suggest that the fifth-year pro can slide seamlessly into the starting point guard spot in Philly vacated by Andre Miller, who split for Portland in free agency. There is little denying that Williams is a score-first, pass-second player (12.8 points, three assists a game last season). And Philadelphia, of course, has been down the road before with scoring-happy point guards. Allen Iverson played the part for years.
Still, the 22-year-old Williams, who came straight out of high school into the NBA in 2005, sure sounds like someone who's ready to take over.
"When I was a rookie, I was like a deer in headlights," he said. "I was playing at 100 mph, just trying to do things that come naturally. Now, I understand timing on the court, understand the score and what's needed at certain times, getting guys touches to keep guys happy. I'm starting to think the game a lot more."
Williams, who averaged 1.9 points and less than half an assist as a rookie while spending some time in the D-League, is saying all the right things. But will he do them?
It may help that coach Jordan is not counting on having a John Stockton-esqe point guard, although general manager Ed Stefanski would love to see Williams' points-to-assists ratio closer to 2-1 then the 4-1 of last season.
"Eddie has shown in Washington that without the prototypical point guard he has made it work with Gilbert Arenas so there's a lot less pressure on the point in a two-guard system than the one point guard-system," Stefanski said.
"The theory is the guy who has the less pressure on him will bring it up. When we were in New Jersey, Kerry Kittles often initiated the offense even when we had Jason Kidd [at point]."
The fate of Philly's season rests with more than Williams. If the 76ers are going to surpass their work of last season, when they led eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando 2-1 in the first round of the Playoffs only to fall 4-2, they'll need shooting guard Andre Iguodala to keep doing his thing and small forward Thaddeus Young to continue his rapid rise. They'll also need help from newcomers Jason Kapono and rookie guard Jrue Holiday, and despite theories to the contrary, the health of power forward Elton Brand is likely key.
Brand, working out chiefly in Los Angeles while rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulder, spent time in Philly earlier this summer. He can't wait to get into Jordan's offense.
"We're going to have spacing where everybody can use their talents. Andre Iguodala can do everything," Brand recently told NBA.com. "Lou Williams is gonna be able to slash and score. I'll be able to cut into the post and not just be standing there on the block where the defense can get you with a double team."
Replacing Miller's leadership will not be easy for a team built around youth. Brand is 30, but Iguodala is just 25, Marreese Speights is 22, Young 21 and Holiday 19.
Stefanski said team officials are pleased that Williams, 22, has been in Philly at times this summer, and they're encouraged that he coaxed teammates Iguodala, Young and Jason Smith into traveling south to help out with his youth camp near his suburban Atlanta hometown.
"That comes with being a starting point guard," Williams said. "It's a role I'm looking forward to. We've got a lot of young, hungry guys that are willing to listen to each other. We're very open-minded players. Not a lot of egos. Even Andre Iguodala. Some times, I sit him down, and sometimes he sits me down and we talk."
Stefanski said, "I have pushed him to become more of a leader. He said he's a natural leader, that he just needs more of a chance. He's been here straight out of high school, and he's always had that person in front of him whether it was Iverson or Andre Miller. Now that path is clear. If he does what he's told, and works at his craft, he'll become that player."
And on nights when the blend isn't enough, when the offense bogs down and shots aren't falling, the 76ers might be able to rely on Williams' basic instincts. In the Atlanta pro-am championship game, with backcourt mate Javaris Crittenton of the Wizards injured and 76ers teammate Young already back in Philadelphia after taking seven stitches in his face from an earlier game, Williams nearly pulled out a win by himself by scoring 53 points. He did it playing all 40 minutes against Celtics guard Rajon Rondo and Hawks backup guard Mario West.
"It's just going to be a different style," Stefanski said. "Andre was more of a typical point guard, getting people into the game. Lou's going to be different in that he'll be moving with the ball and people will be having to stop the ball."
Shooting (which he likes to do) straight from the hip, Williams is ready to roll.
"Don't expect Andre Miller out of me; we're two different players," Williams said. "I picked up a lot from him in terms of leadership. Now, we're trying to make some noise. Everybody's been saying we're a work in progress. But we feel like we can go in and cause some havoc."
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