Hold the Oscar Robertson comparisons, but through three games in the NBA Development League, Terrence Williams is averaging a triple-double. The New Jersey Nets made headlines and drew the ire of D-League buffs when they “demoted” the second-year guard/forward to the D-League’s Springfield Armor. Critics, including yours truly, said the move sent the wrong message about the purpose of the D-League and the Nets’ understanding of how to use it.
Three games in, the jury’s still out on who was right. From a basketball standpoint, Williams doesn’t belong in the D-League. In a year when so many players have been assigned to the D-League—including lottery picks Patrick Patterson, Ed Davis, and Cole Aldrich—Williams has stood out from the pack. He’s averaging 28 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 10.7 assists in 41.7 minutes per game.
Of course, the Nets didn’t send Williams to the D-League for basketball reasons. He was sent to the Armor on punishment, essentially the NBA equivalent of a kindergarten’s timeout corner for bad behavior. In late November, prior to the D-League assignment, Williams was suspended for two games for “repeatedly violating team policy.” Whether the D-League liked the rationale or not, Williams was assigned to develop less as a player and more as a person. So the $64,000 question (why people insist on this figure referencing a 1950s game show confounds me, but I digress) becomes, is it possible to develop or learn character?
If the answer is no, the Terrence Williams is an open-and-shut case. The punitive assignment is a waste of time. If, however, the answer is yes, the determination of whether the assignment was worth it or not becomes far more nuanced. The most important role in all of this is Williams himself. Responding to a recent Twitter question asking him how the D-League was, Williams responded simply, “great, no pressure or politics just basketball.” One tweet doesn’t tell the whole story, but a trip to the D-League can be a humbling experience. Just ask Ed Davis, who said, “I never want to go back down there again,” in reference to his D-League experience this season on assignment from the Raptors with the Erie BayHawks.
Davis’ viewpoint is likely one shared by all assigned players. Once you’ve tasted the NBA lifestyle of chartered flights and bright lights, the D-League lifestyle of IHOP Thanksgiving and bus rides in the snow is not exactly enticing. As Williams’ tweet says, though, the D-League wipes away a lot of the distractions and boils down to basketball. Arenas are smaller and not always filled to capacity. Media attention is significantly less. And game highlights won’t show up on SportsCenter.
If Williams does have the right mindset about his time in the D-League and is willing to admit he’s made some mistakes in the early stages of his NBA career, other characters emerge in this story. The first is Springfield Armor head coach Dee Brown, who had a 12-year NBA career with the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic. Brown is charged with giving Williams minutes on the court, but he’s also someone who can help Williams understand the business side of basketball. Having played in the league, worked in television and now coached in the D-League, Brown is an excellent candidate to help jumpstart Williams’ maturation process, which is going to be critical for him to get out of New Jersey Nets coach Avery Johnson’s doghouse and back onto the court at the NBA level.
Johnson is another character in this story. It didn’t take long for Johnson, in his first year with the Nets, to sour on Williams. It’s likely going to take more than three stat-filling nights in the D-League to repair their relationship. If the partnership is going to work, both men will have to make some changes, starting with Williams. If he can’t toe the line and abide by the team rules, he won’t last as long as Johnson is the coach. On the flipside, the Nets are 6-15, sitting in the Atlantic Division basement right now. It’s not a team that can afford to let talented players like Williams slip away and still be successful. Johnson won’t feel the pressure this season, but losing coaches don’t have long lifespans in the NBA.
Williams’ assignment was one of the most unique assignments in NBA/D-League history. Given the circumstances, no one was sure what to make of it. After three games, Williams has proved that he can assert himself on the court. If he can make strides off it and make amends with Johnson and the Nets organization, perhaps this unusual assignment story will yet have a happy ending.
Read on after the jump for a brief recap of Williams’ first three games on the court in the D-League.
Dec. 2 vs. Maine, 116-12 Win
Williams recorded a triple-double with 16 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists, but he struggled shooting the ball. He was just 5-19 (26.3 percent) from the field. He scored a layup with 2:31 left to put Springfield ahead 101-99, and the Armor never trailed the rest of the way.
Dec. 4 vs. Fort Wayne, 130-124 OT Loss
In his second game, Williams really showed his capabilities. For the second straight game, he registered a triple-double: 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Armor held a 7-point lead with 3 minutes remaining in regulation, but the Mad Ants charged back to force overtime. This was Williams’ best shooting night: 12-22 from the field, 4-5 from 3-point range, 4-4 from the free throw line. For what it’s worth, Williams’ -15 plus/minus was worst on the team.
Dec. 5 at Maine, 119-111 Loss
Though he did not record a triple-double, Williams scored a season-high 36 points on 12-27 shooting while adding 9 rebounds and 7 assists. His Armor again wound up on the losing end though, as Maine enacted revenge for the game three nights earlier.
The Armor are 1-2 with Williams in the lineup (3-4 overall this season).
More on Terrence Williams: My TrueHoop Network colleague Devin Kharpertian of Nets Are Scorching reported on the Springfield Armor and Terrence Williams Dec. 3 following Williams’ debut with the Armor. The post includes some post-game video interview clips with Williams. Scott Schroeder also detailed his debut for Fanhouse: Terrence Williams Nets Triple-Double in NBA D-League Debut.