The Toronto Raptors netted themselves a proven veteran scorer from the Hawks when they sent the non-guaranteed contract of John Salmons to Atlanta for Lou Williams and the rights to Lucas Nogueira. Toronto assumed the final season of Williams three-year $15.7 million contract and the Hawks waived Salmons for $1 million.
The 6’2 Williams was a big time contributor off the bench for the 76ers over his first seven NBA seasons averaging almost 15 points in just 26.3 minutes in 2011-2012, but the Hawks scooped him up as a free agent that summer and it looked like a great move initially. Williams was averaging over 14 points per game halfway through his first year in Atlanta when he blew out his ACL and missed the rest of that season and the start of the next rehabbing from the surgery to repair it. Last year Williams scoring dipped to 10.4 points, but his rebounds, assists, steals and turnovers remained at their normal levels and Williams believes he’ll be back to his usual self this season.
Lou Williams audio:
“Physically, I’m fine,” Williams said. “(Last year) was difficult. I am a guy that prides myself on the way I work in the off season, how I prepare for a season and I didn’t have that opportunity coming back from a knee injury. I missed the first 10-15 games and going into the season I just didn’t have an opportunity to get into the vibe of things, get into the rhythm of things. I didn’t have the opportunity to have training camp with my teammates, to be in practice with my teammates, to understand where guys wanted the basketball and create that rhythm and that is very important with basketball, it’s extremely important when you are trying to win basketball games. By the time I came back, the guys that were there in training camp, that were there in the summer, they had already caught a rhythm, so I just felt like the whole season I was playing catch up. Definitely one of the most difficult seasons that I’ve had, but I look forward to the new opportunity being here in Toronto, being with a new group of guys and continuing my career.”
Williams believes that he is really close to his pre-injury level of ability.
“I feel like I am close (to pre-injury), just by working out, being in the gym, playing in a few Pro Am games and knowing the things that I am capable of doing, getting that confidence, being explosive towards the rim,” Williams said. “I feel like I am really close.”
Unlike previous seasons where the Raptors have brought in shooters like Steve Novak to add scoring to the second unit, the addition of Williams is that of a true scorer. Williams can shoot from deep (career 34.2 percent) and drive with a quick first step, terrific speed and excellent ball handling, but he can also pass (averages 3-4 assists per season) and make his teammates better. He is a true scoring combo guard that has made a career out of providing instant offense to a team’s second unit. Williams knows his role well.
“(My role is) to just come off the bench and bring a ton of energy and score the basketball,” Williams said. “(Provide) leadership, experience, in Philadelphia we had some pretty good runs. We were two possessions away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals when we had barely even made the playoffs, so I’ve been on teams that have started from the bottom and created some great opportunities for themselves and I think that is what I bring to the table.
“I think that when you have a scorer, a scorer makes plays for other guys as well as himself because of the attention that we bring. Sometimes shooters you can just run them off the line and they probably won’t be as successful. Some of those guys can’t dribble, can’t make plays for other people, so that’s the difference between a scorer and a guy that just shoots.”
Williams is also familiar with a number of his new teammates even though he has never played with them before. There are already reasons to believe chemistry will exist pretty much from day one. The dinner Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri arranges in Vegas for his players every season will pay the expected dividends later.
“Kyle (Lowry) and I worked out a lot because he is a Philly guy and I was in Philly,” Williams said. “Amir (Johnson), Tyler (Hansbrough) and myself were all in the same class, we’ve basically known each other since high school. Those are the relations I’ve had (with the Raptors players) before coming here. I have never played with any of these guys so I’m just excited to be around all of them.
“It has been very delightful just to be around these guys. We had dinner when we were out in Vegas with the guys and they are hungry. They want to be respected. They want people to take them seriously and I am one of those types of people. I accept challenges. I love a great challenge. I love to play with guys that want to be challenged, that want to be great and that’s the attitude these guys have. I look forward to it.”
The Raptors style of play fits Williams as well. Head Coach Dwane Casey likes his offense to move and not let the other team’s defense get set. Williams excels in transition and getting into offense sets quickly and he will fit perfectly into Casey’s highly successful two point guard lineups.
“I’m excited,” Williams said. “They play an open style of basketball. That’s a style that benefits the way that I play, that benefits what I bring to the table. So I look forward to getting up here and getting the season started and starting a fresh year with fresh legs without injuries and just going for it.
“I’ve played on teams (with two point guard line-ups). In Philadelphia I’ve played with a Jrue Holiday and an Evan Turner and all three of us on the court at the same time and then in Atlanta, Devin Harris, myself and Jeff Teague being on the court at the same time creates small lineups and playing at a fast pace, so it’s something that I’ve had experience with, something I’m used to and I feel like we’ve had success with it.”
Although Williams will not turn 28-years-old until October, this will be his tenth NBA season and this veteran will bring something to the Raptors they didn’t have last season. Those times when the Raptors second unit can’t put up points should disappear with Williams playing alongside Greivis Vasquez or Kyle Lowry and hopefully let Casey manage the minutes of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry a little better.
The Raptors have added some scoring punch off the bench with Williams this season.