Lou Williams brought his new team to practice at his old stomping grounds at South Gwinnett HS.
by Jon Cooper
It's never too late to come home.
For Lou Williams the time was just right.
The free-agent guard signed a multi-year contract with the Hawks on July 12th after spending his first seven NBA seasons in Philadelphia, which drafted him with its second-round pick (No. 45 overall) in 2005.
For Williams, home is where the heart is. Unfortunately, it's his second home which has been problematic and has presented probably the biggest drawback to leaving Philly.
"[Signing with Atlanta] was exciting," said the 6-2 Snellville, Ga., native, who turned 26 on Oct. 27. "I was just concerned about what I was going to do with a whole house that I had in Philly. Obviously, I have a residence here, so I was basically going to have a house in storage with nothing to do outside of that. The basketball part takes care of itself."
It always has. Williams plans to do in Atlanta what he did in Philadelphia -- put the ball in the hoop. He's averaging 11.3 points per game for his career, on 42.1 percent shooting, 33.7 from the three-point range and 79.8 from the foul line.
"I already know he can score the ball," said point guard Jeff Teague. "I've guarded him plenty of times. I know the man can score the basketball. We expect that from him."
One of the times Teague guarded Williams was on March 3, 2009. Williams went off for 30 points (one off his career high, set earlier in 2008-09), shooting 11-for-15 and making his first 10 shots.
Not surprisingly, it's his personal highlight from games at The Highlight Factory.
"I went 10-for-10 before I missed a shot," recalled Williams, who hit double-digits in his last four visits to Philips, starting that night. "That was pretty cool -- in front of my home crowd. Just to go 10-for-10 before missing a shot. That was one of my best games here."
Coincidentally, one of the Hawks' heroes that night in their 112-93 win was former Hawk Jamal Crawford. Current Hawks have found similarities between Williams’ game and his.
"With Lou it's like playing with Jamal Crawford," said Teague. "He can score in bunches and he takes a lot of pressure off you with the defense because of his ability to draw the foul and shoot the ball."
"We have a younger Jamal Crawford," agreed Josh Smith. "He’s a willing passer as well. He can create for himself as well as his teammates."
Williams sees the comparison but believes he adds a dimension that Crawford didn't. "Jamal is more of a jump shooter. I'm a guy that gets fouled a lot," he said. "We have two different styles of game. I think we're just similar in how we score the basketball."
Williams went to the foul line 292 times during last season's shortened 66-game schedule, making 237 of them (81.2 percent). He easily would have led the Hawks in free throws made (Josh Smith led the 2011-12 Hawks with 203), and would have finished second to Smith in free throws attempted (Smith had a team-high 322 FTAs that season). His 81.2 free-throw percentage would have been second to Joe Johnson's 84.9 percent last season (minimum 60 free-throw attempts).
The Hawks will welcome that kind of ability to get to and convert from the line and are glad to have Williams on their side.
"Every time he came here, he gave us problems," Smith said. "So, obviously, he loves Philips Arena." In 11 previous visits, Williams averaged 10.7 points on 46.5 percent shooting, while dishing out 37 assists against only seven turnovers.
Playing the majority of games at Philips Arena is enticing, but the time away from Philips Arena can be tricky. The amount of friends and family present potential distractions.
Williams isn't concerned about the potential trap.
"That's not hard for me. I don't have a large group of people around me," he said. "I have a very tight-knit group. They understand when I'm working, I'm working and they stay out of the way. So that's probably not going to be an issue for me."
Smith, a College Park native, has managed just fine and believes Williams will as well.
"The only pressure is the tickets," he said, with a laugh. "Having to cut that phone off the day of the game and not worry about any of that stuff and focus on just getting your head ready for the game.”
"Playing in front of your friends and your family, there’s a sense of comfort," he added. "You’re comfortable. Whenever you’re going through hard times you look at them and they calm you down. So I think playing in front of his home crowd, he’s going to excel."
Williams isn't hiding from his hometown. To the contrary, he has already gone out of his way to start giving back by taking part in several events in the surrounding community. The latest came on Wednesday, October 24th; a surprise visit followed by an open practice at his alma mater, South Gwinnett High School, where he was twice Georgia's Mr. Basketball, leading the school to the 5A state championship as a junior in 2004.
Williams is excited to get started and give the locals a show as part of the Hawks' up-tempo offense.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "There are a lot of guys that can score the basketball. I think everybody will be in a position to contribute."
He expects that getting his numbers for the Hawks will prove easier than getting his number.
Williams, who will wear No. 3, had preferred, in order, 23, which he wore with the Sixers, 21 and 5. Lou Hudson's 23 and Dominique Wilkins' 21 are retired, while No. 5 is currently in use by Smith.
"Number 3 was my fourth option," he said. "I just looked up and saw everybody's number retired. I said, 'Okay, that's two of mine out the window.'
"I've actually had a Josh Smith jersey he gave me his rookie year," he added. "I was wearing it in high school, so I knew he was No. 5. I just went for No. 3."
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.