On the day the Kings made the trade that would dislodge him from their starting lineup, Derrick Williams gave a tantalizing glimpse of his offensive potential, scoring a career-high 31 points in a win over Dallas.
Two games later, Williams was back to coming off the bench, a role he appeared to have left behind when the Kings acquired the former No. 2 overall pick from Minnesota for Luc Mbah a Moute on Nov. 26.
“It happens, you know? Changes happen,” Williams said after the Kings’ overtime win against Miami on Friday night. “We get new additions and roles have to change. There are a lot of good players on this team. It’s nothing bad.
“You’ve got to get used to it. Right now I’m not too big on the stat sheet, but I’m helping the team in other ways.”
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Williams averaged 12.9 points and 28 minutes as a starter in his first seven games after being acquired by the Kings, ostensibly as an athletic and offensive upgrade in the frontcourt. In eight games since, the 22-year-old third-year forward has averaged 24 minutes and 7.4 points off the bench.
Against Miami on Friday, Williams totaled a modest two points on 1-of-4 shooting. Yet he played 27 minutes, including all of overtime – even though, as he later confirmed, he didn’t touch the ball on the offensive end in the final five minutes.
“Not one time,” Williams said. “But I think that’s just the thing – even though I’m not touching the ball, (coach Michael Malone) still has confidence to put me in there and be able to guard multiple positions. I think that’s my value a lot as well, not just on the offensive side.”
It has helped ease the second major adjustment in a month for Williams, who lost his spot in the starting five when the Kings traded for Rudy Gay on Dec. 9. Wanting to stay with a bigger lineup, Malone plugged in Gay at small forward alongside Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt.
Williams, 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, became a reserve, where he could be used as a backup small forward or power forward while ideally providing a spark to the second unit, which lost its top scorer and sparkplug when point guard Isaiah Thomas became a starter. He credited Malone with first sitting him down and explaining the move.
In Minnesota, Williams played in all 66 games his rookie year and averaged 12 points last season, starting for most of the second half. But he was averaging just 4.9 points in 11 games in a reduced bench role this season before the trade amid questions of his natural position and his suitability to the Timberwolves’ offense.
Williams said Friday he does feel the Kings’ system is a good fit for him offensively.
“I would say just the offensive freedom that we have,” he said. “When I was in that last system, it was a lot of restrictions and you’ve got to play through the offense first, see the different options.
“Coach (Malone) just gives us a little more freedom on the court, especially when you’re out there rebounding and being able to push the ball and look for guys as well. I think it’s just a different system.”
Known as a versatile scorer in college at Arizona, Williams achieved his career night against Dallas on Dec. 9 by making 12 of 16 shots, including 3 of 5 3-point attempts, and getting to the free-throw line six times. Malone said he believes that potential is there and the key to freeing it, like many of the Kings’ issues, starts on the other end of the floor.
“Derrick is a guy who’s at his best in the open court,” Malone said. “When we get stops and he gets out and runs, he and (guard) Ben McLemore put a lot of pressure on the rim.
“To see more of that, we have to get a lot more stops and our defense has to get a lot more consistent. In the Dallas game, he shot the ball very well, showcased his ability to knock down 3s. So we’ll continue to use him in different ways.”