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Steve Aschburner

Derrick Williams (above) will get plenty of playing time early in the season with Kevin Love out.
Derrick Williams (above) will get plenty of playing time early in the season with Kevin Love out.

Time has come for Williams to step up for needy Wolves


Posted Oct 23, 2012 1:40 PM

CHICAGO -- Two things are going to happen for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the next six weeks, give or take a few days:

1. Kevin Love, the team's All-Star power forward, will return to the court from the two broken bones in his right hand.

2. Derrick Williams, the Timberwolves' other power forward, will have demonstrated why the organization made him the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Or why they never should have.

Whether Williams is ready for his professional close-up or not, it's here. When the knuckle pushups in Love's workout regimen knuckled under last week, the 39 minutes, 26 points and 13 rebounds he handled for Minnesota each night became available, in the short term anyway. Fourth-year forward Dante Cunningham is a candidate to pick up some of that slack. But let's face it, Cunningham wasn't anybody's No. 2 pick.

If part of the explanation for Williams' underwhelming rookie season was that he got stuck playing behind Love, that's not a problem for the next month and a half.

"Not a lot of people can make up 26 and 13," Williams said after an underwhelming performance the other night in Chicago, where he got five points, three rebounds, four fouls and four turnovers while playing the second and fourth quarters. "If it takes two guys or three guys, that's what we're going to have to do."

Last season, Williams was good for about a third of Love's production -- 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 21.5 minutes -- in about half his minutes.

Not enough now.

"With Kevin out, it's a big opportunity for myself," he said. "I'm going to try to use it to my advantage. Ready or not -- that's what it is. ... I'm ready, man."

Williams didn't look ready against the Bulls. He looked like a rookie, not a second-year player in the middle of his first preseason -- which, to be fair, this more or less is. Coming out of the lockout, Williams -- who turned 21 only five months ago -- missed out on summer league and any informal work with Wolves coaches or teammates. He was rushed through two tune-up games before the grind of 66 began.

He also had a veteran coach in Rick Adelman with exacting standards and a short calendar for this Minnesota turnaround. Adelman felt Williams "floated" through his debut season and, after coming to this year's camp leaner by 10 pounds and more active, has let himself slip back a little in recent days.

"I just want to see him play and be effective -- I don't know what else to say," Adelman said. "He's got to play both ends of the court. He's got to be more active than [he was against the Bulls]. Find out what he can do. We, as a coaching staff, have to put guys in positions to be successful. But then they have to go out and do it."

Adelman especially doesn't want Williams to mistake the minutes he'll get in Love's absence -- during what's left of the preseason, anyway -- for time he's earned. "The key for a guy like that, if we start giving him time, [is to know] he hasn't arrived," the coach said. "It's your approach and you have to work at it every day. You can't just assume, 'OK, I'm going to get 25 minutes, everything's going to happen for me.' "

Said new Wolves guard Brandon Roy: "Year 2 is always kind of a tricky year. Because a guy's got a year under his belt and sometimes expectations get a little hot. ... At times, he's a little confused: 'Am I a 3? Am I a 4?' I just tell him, go out there and play. Stop worrying about what position you are, and go let your game speak for itself.

"His game is there. I think it's just confidence. It's between his ears."

Some rookies get thrown into the deep end of the pool, handed minutes in which to sink or swim. Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, drafted one spot ahead of Williams, was like that and turned it into the 2011 Rookie of the Year award.

Williams' numbers weren't horrible -- on a 36-minute basis, his 14.8 ppg and 7.9 rpg hold up well next to pro-rated rookie stats for the likes of Kevin Garnett (13.1, 7.9), Chris Bosh (12.3, 8.0) and Josh Smith (12.6, 8.0). But two things undermined Williams' production: He shot 41.2 percent (26.8 from the arc). And his 1,418 total minutes were a pretty puny rookie helping, owing both to the lockout and his ineffectiveness in stints at small forward.

Chicago backup big Taj Gibson, who schooled Williams with 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks off the bench the other night, came into the NBA from the opposite end of the first round. Gibson was a late pick from whom anything good felt like a bonus.

"It's harder when people expect so much from you, you're expected to come out with 15 and 10 a game," the Bulls forward said. "It was rough on him because they were trying to figure out if he's a 3 or if he can play the 4 with Kevin on his team."

Gibson considers himself fortunate because the Bulls have had plenty of established big men from whom he could learn, from Kurt Thomas and Brad Miller to Carlos Boozer and now Nazr Mohammed. Williams? The Wolves have a crowd at forward -- Love, Cunningham, Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, Lou Amundson -- but other than Kirilenko, they're young or fighting for opportunities themselves. Or both.

Gibson, on the other hand, was initially behind Tyrus Thomas on Chicago's depth chart, not exactly a Love-like roadblock to playing time.

Gibson, who played at USC, knew of Williams when coming up through La Mirada (Calif.) High, back when "he couldn't even dunk." "Then [the next year] he's coming with windmills -- I mean, I saw him from all the way up," Gibson said. "It was such a great transformation. I remember Coach [Tim] Floyd talked so highly about him. Then he committed to Arizona.

"But he's in the NBA now. Everybody's talented. He's got to figure it out. I'm looking at him in the game, he gets the ball, he wants to just go! He wants to just score ... but he has to take his time."

Just not too much time.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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