Even to the casual observer it isn’t hard to tell that Toronto Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey prefers to trust his veterans even as he is putting effort into developing younger players and after 9 NBA seasons, shooting guard Lou Williams is a veteran.
Part of the myth of Lou Williams is his instant offense off the bench and it’s true – some of the time. Williams wins teams games because he can provide that spark, that instant offense, but he doesn’t do it every time or against every defender. However, since DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin strain, Casey has increasingly turned to the veteran Williams to pick up some of the lost scoring punch with mixed results.
Williams quickly made his mark in Toronto. Playing the fewest minutes per game since his second season in the league, Williams was scoring 14.3 points on 9.8 field goal attempts over his first 16 contests in a Raptors uniform. He was shooting a blistering (for him) 44.9 percent from the field and hitting over 40 percent of his three-point attempts (career 34.2 percent). It was an ideal situation with defenses distracted by Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, but it was also way out past the margins of what was reasonable to expect.
Williams has always been a volume scorer best suited to smaller doses as a change of pace player defenses have to adjust quickly to or pay the price and Casey was able to maximize his production by increasing or decreasing Williams’ minutes to match his effectiveness. Then DeRozan got hurt and everything changed.
With DeRozan out of the lineup, Casey bumped Williams’ minutes from 20.8 per game over the first 16 contests to 26.9 minutes over the next 21 games and Casey did get more scoring, but at a price. Williams took 2.6 more shots, but only scored 1.3 more points with that extra time as his field goal percentage dropped to 38.3 and his three-point shooting plummeted to 30.9 percent without DeRozan around.
Defenses have noticeably tightened on Williams, but Casey’s excuse that a player isn’t going to shoot well every game is starting to wear thin. When Williams was firing at the best rate of his career earlier in the season, playing less than 20 minutes was not unusual and Casey only let him play through one bad shooting performance. Williams never played over 30 minutes with DeRozan in the game, but since then, he has played over 30 minutes in four games and in three of them, he shot 5-15, 6-14 and 6-16. In the 21 games sans DeRozan, Williams has worked through 10 off nights averaging 28.3 percent shooting from the field and it’s been hard not to notice.
The Raptors are currently mired in a stretch of 3 wins and 6 loses and Williams struggles with increased playing time have only become more blatant. Over the past nine games, Casey has been giving Williams 28.6 minutes per game and Williams has been averaging 16.1 points, but his shooting has dropped to 37.9 percent and his three-point shot is missing-in-action at 24.1 percent on 6 long bombs per game.
It appears that more hasn’t been better for the Raptors when it comes to Williams, but this is a problem that should fix itself once DeRozan returns to soak up his 34 minutes per game at shooting guard. Williams should get better looks with DeRozan around and Casey should find it easier to park Williams on the bench if his veteran doesn’t have going that night.
The only concern is Coach Casey’s tendency to turn to his veterans when things aren’t going well even when the veteran he is turning too doesn’t have it going that night either.
There were signs Casey was starting to buy into the myth of Williams before DeRozan was hurt. Hopefully this latest stretch of games has driven home the point that the myth of instant offense isn’t the reality every night and Casey needs to look a little deeper into that bench of his when Williams hasn’t got it.
photo credit: Paul Saini Fylmm.com
“(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.”