Williams Continues To Improve Game During Rookie Year

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Derrick Williams has never lacked athleticism. The Timberwolves rookie forward can, and does, throw down alley-oop dunks from his teammates on a regular basis with ease. He has the leaping ability that can electrify a crowd instantaneously.

But none of his dunks this season carried quite as much fire power as his left-handed put-back against Charlotte on Feb. 15. With minutes left in the first half, Williams anticipated the rebound, leaped above everyone and rattled the rim with a thunderous slam.

When he came down, he stopped and stared at the Timberwolves’ bench with a ferocious glare. That aggressive, fiery look was the first time Williams showed that level of intensity on the Target Center court.

“There’s no feeling like that,” Williams said.

Odds are there are more to come.

Williams is continuing to evolve as an NBA player. With each passing week, he’s putting in more and more time in the gym—taking more shots, repeating his moves and trying to become a more polished athlete on both ends of the floor. He’s beginning to show the same aggression he displayed at the University of Arizona, earning him the second overall selection in last June’s NBA Draft. He shined on Monday night back in Arizona, scoring 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting while adding eight rebounds in a 127-124 win over the Suns.

Day after day, Williams puts in the work. After last week’s Tuesday practice, Williams spent almost two hours in the gym after coach Rick Adelman ended the session, taking time in the weight room on his own before joining player development coach Shawn Respert on the court.

One by one, Williams tackled Respert’s shooting and ball-handling drills with the goal of improvement.

It’s working. Williams is averaging 13.3 points per game in March—almost four points more than his season average—and is bringing that rim-rattling intensity he showed against the Bobcats on a nightly basis.

“I feel like he hasn’t changed a lot of techniques, but there is an attitude now that seems to linger, and it’s a good attitude,” Respert said. “It’s an attitude that maybe he feels like there is some value that he adds to our team...He’s got to look at what his best assets are and how he can contribute.”

Meanwhile, the Wolves coaching staff is helping Williams expand his movements on the court. Respert said Williams spent much of high school and part of college posting up, using quick explosive movements to the basket. Now, they’re helping him develop an ability to drive from the perimeter—expanding his ability to get to the basket from other areas on the court.

Williams said he reflected at the All-Star Break and made a commitment to put extra time in each day.

“That’s really where the success comes from out on the court; when the lights are on, that’s why I’ve really been successful,” Williams said. “Just maintaining my strength in the weight room, getting more shots up and trying to be the last person out of here. I’m really consistent with that, trying to be the last one out of the gym.”

Wolves forward Kevin Love said Williams is starting to show everyone what he can do. Not only is he getting put-backs in the paint, but he’s hitting 3-pointers, playing strong defense and getting to the free-throw line.

Adelman said Williams is beginning to make in-game adjustments. After a sluggish start against Portland’s Gerald Wallace on March 3, Adelman said Williams became the aggressor in the second half and changed the complexion of the matchup.

“The second half he attacked Wallace; he went right to the basket,” Adelman said. “That’s the way he has to play all the time.”

Williams said his biggest goal this year is consistency.

“I want to be a consistent player, knocking down shots, being a stopper on defense, getting stops when I need it,” Williams said. “Coach is putting me out there because he trusts me. That all comes in circles. That trust, confidence, defensive stops, knocking down shots—it all goes in a circle.”

Respert said the key is evolution. He said Williams has the ability to be a versatile player in the NBA, and he is showing the work ethic necessary to improve. Now, it’s up to him to keep building on his talent and his intensity.

From there, the sky’s the limit.

“Derrick is on the right track. Like any young player, he’s made the right adjustments so far,” Respert said. “Now he’s got to continue to evolve and make the adjustments…I feel like he has great character. I think that’s the key nowadays more than before.”

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