Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Curious Case of Marvin Williams

By Buddy Grizzard

With the Hawks' season hanging in the balance last night at Phillips Arena, possibly the most unexpected thing happened: Marvin Williams erupted for 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-6 on 3-pointers. The Hawks needed every point as they barely survived to force a Game 6 in Boston on Thursday. Al Horford's triumphant return to the starting lineup for the first time since January had nothing on this story line.

Prior to Game 5, Marvin averaged 18 MPG, 4 PPG and 5 RPG while shooting 22% from the field and 20% from 3-point territory for the series. Once picked ahead of All-NBA point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul, Marvin's value to the Hawks franchise had sunk to such a low that I proclaimed, "It's too bad the Hawks can't use the Amnesty mid-season" after his performance in Game 2.

How did we get to the point where 15 points from Marvin is shocking? It wasn't always like this. The Hawks organization must have seen something in him to extend him for around $8 million per season. The last time the Hawks played the Celtics in the postseason in 2008, the first playoff appearance for the present core, the jury was still out. The 3rd-year player came into the playoffs averaging a career-high 14.8 points per game. In three Hawks victories he averaged just under 25 minutes and 13 PPG on 57% shooting from the field and 100% shooting on 15 free throw attempts.

Even in the 4 losses at Boston he was a factor, averaging around 8 PPG and 4 RPG on 32% shooting. But like Benjamin Button, Marvin's development has seemed to go backwards since then. For the past three seasons he's hovered around 10 PPG. For two of those seasons, Jamal Crawford's volume shooting seemed a convenient scapegoat. This year everyone one from Tracy McGrady to Ivan Johnson to Vladimir Radmanovic has cut into Marvin's minutes and shots.

If we want to truly get to the bottom of the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is Marvin Williams, we've got to go back to when the legend was born. Please humor my gonzo journalism as I must insert myself into the tale in order to tell it fully.

It was the Summer of 2005 and the Hawks hadn't had a team worth following since Mookie, Smitty and Deke. As the Hawks prepared to pick second in the upcoming draft, I was producing a sports talk program on Braves Radio 640 WGST for Art "Madman" Mehring. During the first break of my first show, Art looked past guest host Mark Lemke and asked me, "Are you gonna talk?"

From then on, I talked.

I was years removed from caring about or seriously following sports (Mark had to correct me on when Bobby Cox took over as manager from Russ Nixon). I only took the gig because it was more interesting than my day job, which consisted of calling cop stations on the Gulf Coast and asking where the wrecks and stalls were. Thus, I was sort of a precursor to Dominique Wilkins' broadcasting career, a guy who got on the mic and blathered about sports without actually knowing anything about them.

One of our recurring guests was AJC columnist Jeff Schultz, whom I greatly admire and had read since he joined the paper’s staff. He came on the show and informed us that the Hawks would most likely draft the kid from North Carolina, based on his superstar potential. We put our heads together and it must have sounded like a bowling alley, because none of us knew who Marvin Williams was. I was a Tech fan and ACC snob (yes, my late cousin Lewis Grizzard just rolled over in his grave), but I hadn't watched the NCAA Tournament that year. To this day I swear Jeff feigned forgetting Marvin's name to see if we actually knew anything about college basketball.

Although my hoops knowledge wasn't up to date, I had grown up watching Magic Johnson. I later witnessed Kenny Anderson's freshman year at Tech (the only season he was ever relevant as a basketball player), and saw Jason Kidd play as early as the McDonald's All-American Game. I knew what an elite ball-distributing point guard looked like. I'd watched Chris Paul play at Wake Forest, and I thought he was special, but I didn't project him as an All-NBA point guard.

Nonetheless I felt the Hawks were well stocked with wings and had been desperate for a point guard since Mookie's departure. Deron Williams was my pick because I thought he was tougher than Paul. Schultz did not venture an opinion regarding whom the Hawks "should" draft (it was beat writer Sekou Smith who told me emphatically that the Hawks should draft Marvin), he only speculated on who they would draft.

All these years later, I have a theory that's been gnawing at me and it's time to call Jeff out. I have information that leads me to believe that the GMs of the Jazz and Hornets secretly flew to Atlanta in 2005 to meet with Schultz. In this meeting, I believe they informed Schultz that they would provide him with a lifetime's supply of Mickey Mouse PEZ dispensers if he would help them disseminate the legend of the "superstar potential" of a player who didn't even start for North Carolina.

Whether my theory proves true or not, or whether the events are far-enough removed for Jeff to finally come clean, I believe it's not too late for Marvin to reverse the Benjamin Button process. I believe he can resume his former 15 PPG glory. Imagine what would happen if Marvin showed the same professionalism this off-season as Josh Smith displayed when he showed up for camp last year. Imagine if Marvin Williams came back next season in the best shape of his life.

In the meantime, there's Game 6. I already predicted Celtics in 6 in Hoopinion's 3-on-3 series preview. I'm certainly not predicting two strong games in a row from Marvin. That would be the most unexpected thing that could possibly happen.


jrauch said...

There's nothing physically limiting Marvin. He's got all the athletic gifts in the world. Its all in the space between the ears.

As an enormous Carolina fan, its mind boggling watching him now. He's a totally different player. He came off the bench for that 2005 title team, but made huge crunch time plays in big games. Tar Heels don't win the title without him tipping in Raymond Felton's missed free throw during Illinois' huge second half run.

He looks like a guy who's just lost the plot, for whatever reason.

Bronnt said...

I wasn't a huge fan of Marvin off the bench, really. I mean, he's able to be a big-time scorer, even a primary option, when he's facing the second units of other teams, but using him to beat up on other team's second units isn't really maximizing his potential output. He's better off spacing the floor with the starters, and using his good wingspan to play solid defense against opposing wings.

In this series, with the Celtics essentially eschewing to use a second unit at all-they've rotated guys so that they have 2 starters in at all times-Marvin's ability to capitalize on poor second units as a scorer was useless. And he had nobody else on the team with him to help create solid offensive possessions.

He can potentially be an efficient fifth option, and his size gives him an advantage over starting Kirk-making the rest of the match-ups play out more favorably for the Hawks. Of course, I don't expect him to have another 15 points on 9 shots game in game 6, but if he can chip in double digit points while spreading the floor, we have a chance to steal it.

Buddy Grizzard said...

jrauch I disagree that there's nothing physically limiting Marvin. I think he's a skilled basketball player on offense and defense but it is precisely his lack of balance and strength that prevents him from reaching his potential.

Obviously he had the back surgery and he's looked better this year, but he still falls down and gets pushed around. I believe Marvin needs to strengthen his core and add power while dropping some weight. All of this would help his back and help stem the critical tide.

Bronnt I think lighting up second units was the plan for Marvin, but it never really came to fruition. The Hawks have nobody that can guard Pierce if he wasn't hurt, but the extra size in the starting lineup helps.

Unknown said...

I believe it is simply a fact that to be "successful" under poor NBA coaches, players must push the issue. Marvin Williams is 224th in the league in Usage Rate. He is not put in a position to succeed. If you watch the Hawks, which you obviously do, it is very difficult to analyze the players and their success based on the obvious lack of coaching and play calling or lack thereof. The reason Janero, Willie, Flip, Jamal, Powell, and the rest of the BAD NBA players who get run in Atlanta is due to the fact that both Woodson and Drew value players who get the ball and shoot the ball. There is no concern in regards to defensive liability or getting others involved in the flow of the offense.

If Marvin asserted himself more, like Josh Smith - He would be scoring more. That might come at a cost but he would. Marvin is an excellent rebounder, solid defender, and good 3 point shooter. It’s so hard to see and analyze our players because none of them are put in positions to succeed. Look at Joe and Josh. They get praised for doing things that we cringe at.

All in all, with the way our offense is sun and the personalities at work it will be extremely difficult for Marvin to be anything but league average on offense and above average on defense and rebounding.

All that being said, you don’t use number 2 picks on league average players. It could be worse, he could be Darko….

Buddy Grizzard said...

Church, pulpit, sermon.