CHICAGO -- One of the questions that has followed Derrick Williams since he was drafted in 2011 is whether he should play small forward or power forward.
The answer just might be both.
As the Kings look toward next season, something that needs to be evaluated is the best way to use Williams.
Williams might be the Kings’ most athletic player, but he hasn’t consistently used his talents to make an impact. Coach Michael Malone is trying to get Williams to play aggressively and use his athletic ability. In his past two starts, Williams started at power forward, including Wednesday night’s win at Philadelphia.
Williams was the Kings’ starting small forward until Rudy Gay was acquired in December. If Gay exercises his $19.3 million player option for next season, he’ll keep that spot.
Williams wants to make the case to be the Kings’ other starting forward.
“This last stretch, I want to use it to prove that I should be starting,” Williams said. “And that’s the main goal, to prove it to Coach and finish the season strong as a team and see what works best.”
Williams averages 12.9 points in 32 minutes per game in his 13 starts this season. That dips to 7.3 points in 21.5 minutes per game as a reserve.
Malone doesn’t see why Williams can’t play both forward spots and be effective, as he did as a college star at Arizona.
“You go back to his days at Arizona, when he was the No. 2 pick, he played a lot of four (power forward),” Malone said. “I see in the NBA if a bigger guy is guarding him, he can take that guy out on the perimeter. If you play him at the small forward, you can post him up some. He’s got that versatility and athleticism that is very attractive.”
That Williams’ starts came against Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers was no coincidence. Both teams play with smaller lineups, a direction many teams are going.
Malone had plenty of praise for Williams’ defense against Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young. However, Williams isn’t likely to start tonight against the Bulls because Chicago starts a traditional power forward in Carlos Boozer. But the more versatile Taj Gibson finishes most close games, making Williams valuable.
“The league is getting a lot smaller it seems, and I think Derrick’s versatility is a real advantage when you play him at the four,” Malone said. “Now you have a quick and athletic lineup.”
Williams has to use quickness and athleticism to stand out. The Kings are at their best when they play at a fast pace. The Kings expect Williams to do his part to speed up the tempo, especially if he’s matched up against bigger players.
Malone said he spoke with Williams about two weeks ago to emphasize how he wanted Williams to finish the season. The Kings intend to give him plenty of playing time if his work ethic and energy on the court are at a consistently high level.
“When he’s aggressive, good things happen,” Malone said. “When he’s just out there and passive, he’s not nearly as effective. I want him out there using the athleticism that he has, using his versatility to his advantage and even if he misses a shot or makes a turnover, make it out of making an aggressive play to the basket.”
And as he did against Philadelphia, Malone wants to see Williams take responsibility of becoming a reliable defender. Williams may give up size to bigger players, but at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, it’s not as if he will be overpowered every night.
Malone said it would take Williams adopting more of a defensive approach to maximize the “physical tools” he has to be an elite defender.
“He came into the league as an offensive weapon, No. 2 pick, athlete, versatile,” Malone said. “Now he has to make his mark as a guy who can also guard his position, whether it’s the three (small forward) or the four, and that takes a certain mindset. He’s shown he can do it, but it goes back to does he have the mindset to do it consistently?”
Just another question to answer about Williams.