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Raptors benefit from Williams' spark off the bench

Lou Williams' consistent burst of energy makes him our pick for the 2014-15 Kia Sixth Man of the Year

POSTED: Apr 15, 2015 10:58 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Williams For Kia Sixth Man Of The Year

NBA.com's Steve Aschburner says Toronto's Lou Williams was the best off the bench in the NBA this season.

The roll call of past Kia Sixth Man of the Year award winners is a Who's Who of pyromaniacs, triggermen and leadfoots.

Instant offense: Jamal Crawford, James Harden, Jason Terry, J.R. Smith, Ben Gordon -- all of them were players in their SMOY seasons who were sizzling-hot by the time they doffed their warm-ups and, once subbed in, saw green lights and good looks in every possession.

Lou Williams has been that type of player, too, for most of his 10 NBA seasons with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Toronto. But in earning NBA.com's Sixth Man honor in his first season with the Raptors, the undersized gunner added a wrinkle to the role: Consistent offense.

For a player with a career 41.6 shooting percentage, Williams has been exceedingly reliable off the bench for a Toronto team whose primary scorers have had their ups and down. In each month of 2014-15, he averaged between 14.0 points per game (February) and 16.9 (January), before this month's finishing kick of 21.0 heading into the final two games.

3DTV: Lou Williams

Raptors star Lou Williams joins Dennis Scott to talk about his long career and his role as the sixth man.

Compare that to starting point guard Kyle Lowry, who averaged 22.3 ppg in December but dipped to 11.9 in February and, fighting a bruised back, just 11.0 in April. Then there's DerMar DeRozan, who was good for 19.7 points nightly in November before missing December entirely (torn adductor tendon), only to return at 16.7 ppg in January and February.

Williams, by contrast, has been the guy to shoot Toronto back into games (and occasionally out of them, as Sixth Man are wont to do). He had scored at least 10 points 63 times through the Raptors' first 80 games and 25 points or more on 11 occasions. Toronto is 14-3 when he leads the team in scoring and 14-6 when Williams scores at least 20 points.

"As teammates, we know what to expect from him," forward Amir Johnson said of Williams. "We have ultimate confidence in Lou when he comes in the game. We know what he is going to bring us, so we look for that. If our energy is down, our flow, Lou comes in and gives us ability and energy on the floor. He gives us confidence."

Generously listed as 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, the slender Williams leads all bench players in points, 3-pointers made and free throws made. And despite his anemic field-goal percentage, Williams' true-shooting percentage (.566) is the second-best of his career. He is Toronto's leading scorer at 22.2 points on a 36-minute basis, and he trails only DeRozan (7.6) in earning his way to the line, taking 7.0 free throws per game.

Without him, there's no way we'd have an opportunity to finish third or win our division without him coming off the bench.

– Raptors coach Dwane Casey

The Raptors, whose defense was their foundation last season when they finished 48-34 and won the NBA's Atlantic Division, haven't found that gear this time around. In fact, coach Dwane Casey's team has taken on a little bit of Williams' basketball personality, trying to outscore opponents rather than holding them down. It's not Casey's preference but, well, it beats the alternative if the defensive base isn't there. Toronto again clinched home court at least in the first round by winning its division and challenging for the most victories in franchise history.

"Without him, there's no way we'd have an opportunity to finish third or win our division without him coming off the bench," Casey said. "The difference he makes on our team. ... He did the same thing in Philly. That's who he is. He can score on anybody, whether it's Kawhi Leonard or anybody."

The 45th player picked in the 2005 Draft by Philadelphia, Williams has restored his game after a torn ACL and two underwhelming seasons in Atlanta. Casey winced a little when Toronto sent journeyman John Salmons (whose defense pleased the coach) to the Hawks for Williams and project big man Lucas Nogueira.

But after ranking 27th in bench scoring last season, the Raptors have improved to fifth. With games left against Boston Tuesday and Charlotte Wednesday, they were on the verge of becoming the highest scoring crew in Toronto history, averaging 104.3 vs. the 2009-10 squad's 104.1. Williams, with big nights like his 21-point fourth quarter in early March against Cleveland and the 29 he posted Saturday in beating Miami, has been vital to that.

Lou Williams Erupts

Lou Williams scores 36 points in the Raptors 110-93 win over the Cavs.

"You have to take advantage of a guy's strength. Scoring is his strength," Casey said recently. "You're going to have some nights where he can't hit the side of the barn. But he's won us so many games by changing the game with his energy, his offensive energy. It's given our team an offensive identity. For better or for worse, it's helped us win a lot of games."

This Sixth Man stuff is familiar territory to Williams. He finished second to Harden for the honor in 2011-12, with the then-Oklahoma City super-sub helping his team all the way to The Finals. Still, Williams outscored Harden that season on a 36-minutes basis, 20.5 to 19.3.

This season, one of the stats that shows his impact on Toronto's play while separating him from other SMOY candidates is his on/off rating. Williams is a plus-7.9, with the Raptors better off at both ends when he's on the court rather than sitting. He has established himself as one of the few bench players in the league for whom opposing coaches game-plan.

Instant offense. Consistent offense. That's why Williams is deserving of the award. Here are other candidates who were expected to receive support in the balloting of reporters and broadcasters who actually select the winner:

Iguodala Steal and Slam

Andre Iguodala picks the pass and finishes with authority.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors: Voters sometimes like to reward guys like Iguodala, a full-time starter and one-time All-Star prior to this season. He provides a boost at both ends of the floor for Golden State and, like so many of his teammates, has a strong net rating (12.5) because of the Warriors' scoring differential. Golden State's numbers get a little better when Iguodala enters the game but his responsibility is more diffused than Williams'.

Aerial Display

Matthew Dellavedova drives and lobs it up for Tristan Thompson to catch and slam home.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers: Thompson is another guy who was used to starting, albeit on a poor team, before this season. He bought into the Cavaliers' vision -- that is, LeBron James' -- for this season and has embraced his backup center/power forward role behind Timofey Mozgov and Kevin Love. Thompson ranks sixth in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (3.3), is shooting a career best 54.7 percent and leads all subs with eight double-doubles.

Isaiah Thomas Leads Celtics' Playoff Push

Isaiah Thomas has excelled since coming to Boston, helping lead the Celtics into the Eastern Conference Playoff picture.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics: Thomas is scoring at an elite rate -- 27.0 points per 36 minutes, and his on/off impact for the Celtics is right up there with Williams for Toronto: plus-7.8. If there's a downside to his SMOY candidacy, it's the trade at the February deadline that shipped him from Phoenix to Boston. Historically, winners of the NBA's annual awards don't split their time between two teams.

Crawford's Big 4th Quarter

Watch the highlights from Jamal Crawford's huge 4th quarter where he went off for 21 points in the Clippers comeback win over the Nuggets.

Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers: Crawford's calf injury wiped out his March and hurt an already thin Clippers bench. He still does what he does, averaging 15.9 ppg off the bench, but that number is off from the two seasons in which he did land the SMOY trophy. His shooting (39.7 percent) is down from 2014 and 2010 as well. The metrics say the Clippers are better with him off the floor than on it (minus-8.2). Crawford is one of four players who have won the award twice (with Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf).

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

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