Williams Working Toward Consistency In Small Forward Role

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Williams Working Toward Consistency In Small Forward Role

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

Email / Twitter

Derrick Williams opened up Training Camp a year ago trimmed down in weight—perhaps not quite to the degree he is this season, but enough for others to take notice of his physique compared to his rookie year. The goal was for him to transition from his more natural position at power forward to play more small forward. Not only would it afford more minutes not lost in the shuffle behind All-Star Kevin Love, but his athleticism opened up new opportunities on the wing if he was able to make the adjustment.

Early on in camp, Williams showed consistency. But as a young player, coach Rick Adelman said that consistency wasn’t always there and it affected his ability to make the transition. And after last year’s injury marathon that included Love missing all but 18 games, Williams ended up playing primarily at the 4.

Now he’s back in camp, he slimmed down to 235 pounds and he’s in position to have another try at the 3 spot. He played primarily small forward on Tuesday at camp, and if he can effectively make the adjustment there are certainly minutes to be had. With Chase Budinger’s injury keeping him out of the lineup for the time being, minutes behind projected starter Corey Brewer are up for grabs.

He’s ready to get to work.

“Myself and Corey, we’re going to take it upon ourselves to fill that role,” Williams said. “Chase is a good shooter. We’re going to miss him…but when injuries happen, someone’s got to step up. We have to do that.”

Offensively, the challenge of making the adjustment to small forward is two-fold: You’re stationed out on the wing, so you need to be able to knock down long-range shots (particularly corner 3s in Adelman’s system) and you need to active in your cuts and your penetration to the rim. It takes 3-5 steps to get to the basket when you’re catching the ball on the perimeter compared to 2-3 steps inside, and you need to be able to beat your quicker defender to the hole.

Williams is one of the most athletic players on the team, so his ability to leap and get out in transition is not in question. And he isn’t afraid to shoot from distance. But at the 3, Adelman said Williams will need to make the right cuts on a consistent basis. On Tuesday, Adelman said Williams had a handful of plays where he made the right cut at the right time and it led to a teammates scoring on the possession. It might not lead to Williams getting the points, but it opens up areas on the court because defenses need to respect Williams’ athletic ability.

If he can make those timely cuts consistently, it will open up a lot of possibilities for him playing this new position.

“Coach always preaches to the team we have now, it’s not about the points,” Williams said. “We have so many people who can score now—on any given night anybody can have 20, anybody can have 30. The points will be there, and now it’s about who can play defense and who’s on the court.”

In Adelman’s system, the 2 and the 3 are fairly interchangeable on the offensive end. With veterans like Brewer and shooting guard Kevin Martin on board, that helps younger players like Williams or rookie Shabazz Muhammad who are trying to learn the position at the NBA level. Martin said just the knowledge of having years of experience in the league will help the younger guys grow, but for Martin the biggest difference between the 2 and the 3 is not on the offensive end. He said Brewer will be a major asset for guys like Williams, because he’s used to defending small forwards on a nightly basis.

There’s no night off in the NBA on the defensive end when you play the 3. They’re quick, they’re skilled and they’re scoring machines.

“That’s where I think Corey has more experience than me guarding the LeBrons and the Kevin Durants and the Carmelo Anthonys of this league,” Martin said. “Where they can teach them what positions to be in and how to be most effective on the defensive end.”

Brewer was brought in for that very reason. He’s a guy the Wolves look to as their top wing defender, and he’ll complement the volume scorers the team hopes it has in its starting lineup this year. He and Williams went head-to-head several times during Day 1 of camp with Brewer playing alongside Ricky Rubio, Martin, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic in the starting five.

His hope is to get Williams and the other young small forwards acquainted with a few ways to better prepare for the challenges ahead on defense.

“Just teach them a few tricks, teach them different things,” Brewer said. “You’ve got to play hard every night. How to defend, little things you can do just to help them.”

A few tricks, perhaps?

“You’ve got to have some tricks,” Brewer said, smiling. “I can’t tell you guys, but I’m going to try to help them out a little bit.”

Brewer was highlighted by Adelman as one of the top performers during Day 1 of camp. He got out in transition and showed the defensive intensity the Wolves hope he’ll provide this year.

He’s changed a lot since his last stint with Minnesota. Since leaving midway through the 2010-11 season, he won a title in Dallas, made two more playoff appearances in Denver and really found his strengths as an NBA player. Adelman praised Brewer for understanding his role and knowing how to stay within the confines of his responsibilities.

One thing that hasn’t changed is his motor on the court. Love said that’s what he’s looking forward to most about having Brewer back.

“He’s a guy who loves to play the game of basketball, a guy that I love having on my team,” Love said. “He’s a string bean, but he’ll come in there and hit you hard. If he could, he’d defend all five positions.”

Having that intensity and mindset is something that can rub off on guys like Williams on the defensive end. D-Will looks and sounds focused on improving that aspect of his game. He said he’s taking it upon himself to become a better defender and more well-rounded player on the court.

If he can make that transition while learning from a guy like Brewer along the way, he could make big strides in his game this year.

And while he’ll likely still get minutes at the 4 here and there, the hope on the Wolves side is he will be serviceable at small forward and will be able to take a chunk of the minutes there along with Brewer.

Williams said he’s just focusing on the things he can control.

“We have a lot of good players this season—I think that’s the first time we’ve had a problem with that,” Williams said. “We have a lot of good players on this team. So I don’t think minutes are going to be a problem with anybody. As long as we’re winning, everybody is going to be happy.”

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