What the Hawks Will Miss Most Without Lou Williams


Photo Credit: Ryan Hurst @RHurstDesigns

Louis Williams wears a lot of hats. He’s a professional basketball player, a proud Atlanta native and even an accomplished rapper. No seriously, he released a mixtape this summer. It’s pretty good, even for the self-proclaimed best NBA rapper (frankly, a title with little competition).

Williams, who grew up in Atlanta and was a star player at nearby South Gwinnett High School, signed a three-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks last offseason after spending seven years with the Philadelphia 76ers. Now, he picks up the torch left by Josh Smith as hometown hero heading into the 2013-14 season.

On the court, Williams’ call to excellence has been, and will continue to be, creating for himself by breaking down the defense. It has been something he has excelled in since coming into the league straight out of high school in 2005. His bevy of isolation moves and the ability to go both left and right has allowed him to carve out a solid career in the NBA.

As described by Robby Kalland in his Breaking Bud series, the new Hawks offense will be predicated on motion, sharing the ball and a large amount of pick and roll. In that piece, head coach Mike Budenholzer had this to say about Lou’s role in the offense:

"“I think he can play a couple of positions and his ability to play pick-and-roll and to put him in some more pick-and-rolls where you can have multiple guys on the court that can initiate and have the ball swing to them and have another pick-and-roll, the more guys we get like that who are efficient and good in pick-and-roll the better. I think he’ll add that dynamic and he can play one-on-one, he can get a basket. He’s a unique, dynamic scorer that will take some of the strengths from his career and what he’s done to this point and hopefully add to it. Again, I think the natural flow of the system will put him in a lot of situations and a lot of opportunities to be good.”"

The one area that has become signature Lou Williams is the aforementioned one-on-one playmaking ability. NBA fans have watched Tony Parker establish himself as one of the premier quick point guards, and it’s pretty clear the Hawks are taking a few notes from the Spurs playbook when transitioning to the offense that former longtime Spurs assistant coach Budenholzer desires.

To be clear, Lou has handles but he does not posses elite point guard ball skills like Parker, and this season with the tandem of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder, presumably he will be asked to handle the ball less except in specific isolation or pick-and-roll opportunities. Depending on whether the Hawks choose to keep Shelvin Mack or Royal Ivey as a third-string point guard, Lou may or may not shoulder some of the point guard duties from time to time. Though Lou did a decent job in that role last season when Devin Harris went down to injury, it’s clearly not his forte. Williams is, however, the perfect guy to have the ball with the shot clock winding down because of that ability to create. With the possible exception of Jeff Teague, no one else on this roster has near Lou’s ability to create something out of nothing.

Unfortunately for he and the Atlanta Hawks, Williams is still recovering from an ACL injury that has sidelined him since January. The Hawks went a mere 22-22 after Lou’s season-ending injury in Brooklyn and fell to the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

This is the quandary until Lou’s return: someone to lean on for isolation points. He has a bevy of step back moves and leaning jumpers at his disposal. He has also become a leak out defender’s worst nightmare, with the presence to always find a way to get to the line in one-on-one fastbreak situations. The rest of the Hawks backcourt is somewhat light on prototypical shot creators. We know about Jeff Teague’s ability to get to the rim as well as play pick-and-pop with Horford, but we’ve only seen flashes of it from Dennis Schröder thus far in games that have not mattered, nor can John Jenkins, Kyle Korver or Jared Cunningham be relied on for that over the long haul.

Lou is also well-versed in drawing body contact from defenders and getting to the line in a halfcourt set, as evidenced by his career 5.8 free throws attempted per 36 minutes. His 3.9 FTA per 36 minutes was his lowest rate since his second year in the league and probably no more than an aberration; likely the result playing in a new offense system. Even still, he and the now departed Devin Harris led the Hawks in free throws attempted per 36 minutes last year among perimeter players. Partly as a result of missing Lou Williams for the latter half of the season, the Hawks finished the season 27th in free throws per game, and were the only playoff team in the bottom 7.

Last season before falling to injury, Williams enjoyed an uptick in his effective field goal percentage, due mostly to 44% of his shots coming from behind the arc, easily the highest percentage of his career. Though he hit 36% of his tries from long range, he most likely won’t relied in that capacity this season. With even more shooters around him this season, Lou Williams ability to create and get to the line will be counted on upon his return to the lineup.

The Hawks can attempt to fill this hole with increased Teague penetration along with lineups with Teague and Schröder in tandem. Even John Jenkins has shown he has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, despite his “purely a shooter” label pressed on him coming out of Vanderbilt. However, I do not believe there is any replicating Lou’s creativity and body control to finish off balance shots.

I took some clips from a Hawks game in Sacramento, where Lou quietly poured in 21 points on eight shots in 29 minutes. It would go on to be one of his best games of the whole seasons. In just a span of a few minutes in the second half, Lou dropped buckets from every conceivable position: in isolation, off of a down screen, off a high pick and roll, fading left, fading right, and more.

Here, with the shot clock under 10 seconds, Lou is tasked with getting a quality shot. He backs up and sees he has the diminutive and flat-footed Aaron Brooks picking him up and that’s all she wrote. Lou gets Brooks on his heels his right hand and has enough in air balance to softly drop in the floater whilst fading to his right.

This time, Josh Smith comes to set a pick for Lou on the wing. He uses the screen to get Brooks on his back hip and an opening to the lane appears. Standing before him is the scary 7′ Boogie Cousins but never fear, his trusty floater comes to the rescue!

Lastly, just to pound the point into your head, Lou shows he can finish fading to the left. He comes off of a down screen from Kyle Korver then uses an Ivan Johnson high pick to get into the lane. An ineffective closeout from John Salmons and leaves Brooks to get picked on yet again. This series alone embarrassed Brooks enough to flee to the Chinese Basketball League again this year (I may have made that part up).

No one seems to know when Lou is set to return to action on the court, as he is said to be without a timetable. ACL injuries are certainly a tricky deal, as Derrick Rose fans may attest to. One thing is for sure, the Hawks needs Lou to return to the court as the player he was previously. Here’s to a full recovery for one of Atlanta’s own.

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