Posted Oct 23 2009 10:20AM
Hindsight is always 20-20. Or, in the case of the Atlanta Hawks, 19-10.
Those are Chris Paul's career averages in scoring and assists. If you haven't noticed, he's not doing that in Atlanta, where he could be playing instead of New Orleans. The Hawks blew a chance to grab a superstar like Paul and fill a need back in the 2005 Draft not once, but twice. They passed on Deron Williams, too, a future All-Star snapped up by Utah. That's two big-time point guards who got away, and the Hawks paid for it both in fan backlash and won-loss record.
That kind of mistake can set a franchise back for years, and the Hawks compounded it with another, drafting Shelden Williams instead of Brandon Roy the next year. Roy became Rookie of the Year. As for Shelden Williams, his best move was the one he made toward Candace Parker.
These back-to-back Draft disasters normally would cripple most teams, or at least keep them in lotteries for years to come. Not only are Paul, Deron Williams and Roy tremendous talents, they're also fun to watch, the kind fans pay to see. For a team that historically found it hard to fill the arena and win big games in the summer, the Hawks, you'd assume, were indeed dealt a double-barreled blow.
And yet ... the Hawks are projected to draw good crowds this season. They could be headed for 50 wins. What happened to the train wreck?
Well, the controversial sign-and-trade with Phoenix for Joe Johnson went well, for starters. Josh Smith grew up. Al Horford fell into the Hawks' lap. Mike Bibby, after burning up minutes all those years in Sacramento, saved some gas for the Hawks, who gave up Shelden Williams to pry him from the Kings. Things sort of worked out.
And so has Marvin Williams, the player at the root of this weird, strange journey.
The Hawks are not being pounded on the court, or in the court of public opinion, partly because Marvin Williams, the player taken ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams, isn't a bust. Well, true, he hasn't lived up to those ridiculously high projections that NBA scouts placed upon him based entirely on a one-and-done career at North Carolina. Where he didn't start. Or play more than 22 minutes a game. Or average more than a dozen points. Or make any All-America teams.
Williams is a 6-foot-9 small forward, not a 7-foot center or a quick, pass-first point guard, two positions that carry far more weight and importance. His type come a dime a dozen, but scouts didn't apply such logic in the days leading up to the draft. All the pre-Draft hype forced Williams to turn pro quickly and cash in while he could. Almost any player would. There was virtually no chance of him staying in school an extra year to improve his draft position because the Hawks grabbed him at No. 2, after Milwaukee took 7-footer Andrew Bogut.
Billy Knight, the Hawks' general manager at the time, obviously reached. Even though the Hawks were stocked at forward, and thin at guard, Knight thought Paul was too small. Whoops.
Fast-forward four years. The point guard spot is in stable hands with Bibby, clearly on the downside and a defensive risk but definitely a safe bet. The future at point might belong to rookie Jeff Teague, who has looked splendid in the preseason. As for Williams, he's a decent pro with a major role on an up-and-coming team. He isn't a star, not now, maybe not ever, although at age 23 time is still on his side. Last year, before injuries hit, he didn't show much improvement from the year before, or drop any hints that he'll ever be a big scorer at a position that demands it. Only once did he get 30 or more points, although with Joe Johnson around, Williams was and is a secondary option.
And that's why this season is important. Johnson becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer and the betting money says he'll be teammates with LeBron James or Dwyane Wade next season. If so, the Hawks will look to replace his points from within.
They gave Williams a five-year extension worth $40 million this July. But whether Williams will ever give them a new dimension is still a question.
"I'm just trying to keep doing what I'm doing," he said. "I'm not trying to do too much."
And there's the issue. Mild-mannered by nature, Williams has found a comfort zone as a supporting player. Not an aggressive scorer, or someone who craves stardom, or willing to wrestle the mantel from Johnson if this is indeed Johnson's final season in Atlanta.
"He's a great team player, but at some point in time you'd like him to take over games, and I've talked to him about that," said Rick Sund, the Hawks' general manager.
The Hawks aren't going anywhere unless someone steps forward and takes the big shots. That's what will separate them from Boston, Cleveland and Orlando. Is Joe Johnson that guy? Maybe. Anyone else?
It's not Marvin Williams' fault that scouts slobbered all over him at age 19, that the Hawks took him second overall, that the players who directly followed him in the Draft became superstars. Anyway, he's turned out OK.
Still, the Hawks need more than that. The star the Hawks desperately need is running the show in New Orleans. And in Utah.
And Marvin Williams, four years later, is simply running in place.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
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