There’s nothing like a contract year to bring out the best work habits in a player.
By all accounts, Derrick Williams did all the right things leading up to this season. He played in the summer league, lost weight and came into training camp in good shape.
But all that hard work wasn’t rewarded with playing time as Williams lost out to Omri Casspi in Kings coach Michael Malone’s rotation.
Still, Williams remained resolute. In the past two games, he has played more than he had in the previous 11, and the Kings have liked what they’ve seen.
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Williams has been active and aggressive, as expected for a player with his athletic ability. Williams hopes to show that when his rookie contract expires at the end of the season, he will deserve a new deal.
Williams has taken his situation in stride.
“It’s a big year for myself, but I never want to put pressure on myself,” Williams said. “I never have. I’ve always enjoyed playing the game of basketball. When I’ve tried to put pressure on myself instead of letting the game come to me, things haven’t gone my way.”
Things haven’t gone Williams’ way for most of the young season. Casspi won the minutes behind Rudy Gay at small forward, leaving Williams watching on most nights. There was talk of using the 6-foot-8 Williams against small lineups to create matchup advantages, but that hasn’t happened because Gay, Casspi and reserve Carl Landryhave played well.
A player whose motivation has been questioned stayed positive and worked hard.
“Just staying ready, keeping my body in shape,” Williams said. “That’s the key to this game. A lot of it’s mental, but you’ve got to be physically ready as well – running on the treadmill, getting extra shots up, coming in on off days and just staying ready. And so far it’s paying off.”
Williams sparked the Kings on Thursday with 10 first-half points in a victory over Chicago.
Williams then had 12 points and six rebounds on Saturday at Minnesota, the team that drafted him second overall in 2011.
Before the past two games, Williams had scored 11 points all season. He has played 52 minutes in the past two contests after playing 43 for the season in seven appearances.
“D-Will, he’s playing fantastic,” said guard Darren Collison. “I think D-Will has been huge for us the last couple games. … He’s just playing phenomenal right now, and I think he’s giving us an extra boost.”
Malone was impressed that Williams stayed encouraged and worked hard while waiting for a chance to play.
The fourth-year forward’s ability to stay motivated will have a lot to do with his playing time. If Williams continues to be aggressive and not settle for jump shots, he’ll receive more chances to play.
If he also can be an irritant on defense, he’ll move higher in Malone’s rotation.
“All I can do is when I have an opportunity to put him in, trust him and put him in those situations,” Malone said. “And he’s proven to be very trustworthy against Chicago and again (against Minnesota). So if he can help our bench get going, that’s only going to help us moving forward.”
And that’s going to help Williams’ NBA future, too.