Rookie Flashback: Derrick Williams
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NBA seasons blow by fast enough, but when your rookie season comes during a lockout-shortened year it makes it go that much faster. So as Wolves forward Derrick Williams looks back on his first season in the league, it’s hard for him not to comment on just how quick the experience came and went.
“The first game we played was Milwaukee and that was preseason, and then the first game of the season I played in was the Thunder. You really look back at it, that was November or so and our first game was Dec. 26,” Williams said. “It goes by so fast. You remember it like it was yesterday.”
Williams took the leap from college after his sophomore year and showed flashes of the athleticism and talent that made him the Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year in his final season at the University of Arizona. Even during that first regular season game against the Thunder, Williams dazzled a packed Target Center with a his high-flying ability—including a reverse fast-break jam off a Ricky Rubio pass that gave Minnesota a 79-78 lead with 10:50 to go in the fourth.
But plays like that stand out to a rookie making his professional debut, as do other moments during his first season in the league. It’s what makes the first go-around so special.
Perhaps nothing tops Williams’ pair of games in his native Los Angeles against the Clippers—two contests that stand out both on personal and team levels. On Jan. 20, the Timberwolves came from behind to beat the Clippers 101-98 thanks to Kevin Love’s deep 3-pointer as time expired. On Feb. 28, the Wolves returned to L.A. and beat the Clippers 109-97 thanks in part to Williams’ performance off the bench. He set a career high in points (27) while shooting 9-of-10 from the field and 4-of-4 from 3-point range.
The pair of games were easy choices as two of his most memorable games as a rookie.
“Both times we played the Clippers at home where I’m from,” Williams said. “That night I had my career high, I had 27 points that night and then [Michael] Beasley came off the bench with me and he also had 27 points. When Kevin hit that game-winner, I felt like we were really rolling. I felt like we were really coming along. A lot of people were talking about us.”
But it wasn’t always easy for Williams. During his rookie season his playing time fluctuated, especially during the final month, particularly sharing minutes with All-Star Kevin Love at the power forward spot.
This offseason, Williams made it a goal to drop weight and learn nuances of the perimeter game. He was at about 230 pounds during Summer League, was studying the pick-and-roll and had worked on becoming more explosive off the dribble away from the basket.
He said it’s all about finding your niche in the NBA game.
There are a lot of ups and downs, and that comes with being a rookie,” Williams said. “Learning new things, learning new strategies. I think the main thing is always coming ready to play. There are people out there trying to take your spot every single night, and that could be somebody’s night. You have a night off, and someone else is playing and they’re trying to take your spot. I just feel like you learn a lot through five months, six months.”
Heading into his second year, his main focus is taking the next step. Just like he did in making the jump from high school to college, he said it’s important to take what he learned in his first year and apply it to the upcoming season.
“That’s what I feed off of,” Williams said. “I feel like I can use this year as a building block to get where I want to be. The season has a lot of ups and downs, and that’s what I want to learn from.”