While the corporate NBA press floods fans with trifling tripe like "Toronto ties Cleveland 2-2!" or "Can Oklahoma City pull off a historic upset?" P&T knows real recognizes real. So we're bringing you news that actually matters -- namely, looking back at the 2015-16 Knicks. One by one we'll review each player's accomplishments, remember them at their best, and wonder whether they're stayers or goners. Leading off: Derrick Williams.
Just The Facts, Ma'am
Williams entered last year with mostly modest expectations among Knick fans and pretty much wildly exceeded them. Despite playing the fewest minutes since his rookie year, Williams set career highs in free throws made (attempting nearly 40% more per 100 possessions), field goal percentage (45%), assists, PER (17.2), win shares (3.6), and offensive rating (110). 2016 was the first season he had more assists than turnovers; in fact, his turnover percentage was a career low despite nearly setting a career high in usage rate (23.3). It was also the first year he had a plus offensive/defensive rating, joining Robin Lopez and Jose Calderon as the only Knick regulars to accomplish this.
Even amidst the darkness, there was light: Williams shot a career-norm sub-par 29% from downtown, but 42% on corner threes. His ability to not only finish on the break but push the pace gave the Knicks, who often resembled a La Brea Tar Pit exhibit, one of their few up-tempo options last season.
Opening night in Milwaukee, Williams put up 17 shots, proving right off the bat his relentless gunnery. Sike! He never took more than 17 shots the rest of the year. The opening stretch of the season was his slowest, possibly because acclimating to the Triangle offense was more complicated than prior systems he'd known. Over the next six weeks he only scored in double-digits twice. He also never broke 20 minutes in those six weeks.
In late December Derek Fisher began playing Williams more, and Williams began producing more, scoring 10 or more in five of the last seven games of 2015. In January the scoring continued, particularly after Carmelo Anthony injured himself stepping on a referee's foot, and Williams showed more all-around skills, including a 31-point barrage at Brooklyn and 19/14/4 and 19/10/4 slash lines in back-to-back games vs. Charlotte and Oklahoma City. He hit double-digits in 10 of the Knicks' final dozen games.
One of the biggest improvements the 2015-16 Knicks showed was defending the three-point line, where opponents shot 3.1% lower from distance than average when guarded by Williams.
The Highest of Highs
The Knicks had 199 dunks last year. Williams had 24% of them. Four came in his Brooklyn explosion:
Two more? Sure.
One for the road.
Stay or Go?
Williams has a player option decision due July 1st. He can stay with the Knicks for another year and make $5.1M or he can be an unrestricted free agent off a career year in a market awash with money. It's hard to see him opting-in when he can probably double his career earnings with a relatively modest three-year deal ($25M?). But the Knicks would do well to be the team putting a ring on it. He has a year of familiarity with the organization and the Triangle under his belt, and he could thrive under Jeff Hornacek if the Knicks' rumored new coach imports any of his fast-paced Phoenix offense to Madison Square Garden.
In 2014 Hornacek made his name as a coach leading the Suns via a trio of talented guards, but there was a high-flying athletic forward who'd already played for six NBA teams and spent two years in the Russian league who became a dark horse stallion for that team. Gerald Green was 28 at the time. Williams just turned 25 today. Happy birthday, DWill! The Knicks can gift themselves some continuity and upside by re-signing Derrick Williams to a fair contract. He's one of the few players they can be confident of succeeding in either Phil Jackson's offense or Hornacek's.