Heading into the 2013 – 2014 season, the Brooklyn Nets had high expectations. While just seven games have passed in the still-young season, it is evident that rookie head coach Jason Kidd and the Nets are not living up to those expectations. They are 2-5 and sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Their stacked starting lineup, which, by the way consists of 35 All-Star appearances, is struggling mightily. From guards and forwards such as Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce to the men in the middle like Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez, no one is more important to the success of the Nets than Deron Williams. As Brooklyn goes so goes Deron, and right now, Deron ain’t goin’ nowhere.
The 29-year-old point guard joined the (then) New Jersey Nets via trade in 2011, before signing a five-year, $98.7 million deal in the summer of 2012 to stay with the team. Williams was the first true star to don a Nets uniform since the days of Kidd and Vince Carter, and they hoped to build around the former Illinois standout. Finally, led by Williams with the help of Johnson and Lopez, the Nets returned to relevance and captured the four-seed in the Eastern Conference, their first playoff appearance since 2007.
After acquiring future hall of famers KG and Pierce last offseason, Brooklyn was instantly thrown into the conversation as a threat to King James’ throne in the NBA. More than two weeks into the season and the only thing the Nets seem to threaten is the Utah Jazz’s June lottery pick. Sure, the blame can fall on Garnett and Pierce, who are both averaging career-lows in points, with KG also shooting a career-worst from the field. Or blame Lopez, the 7-footer who can’t manage to grab more than 6 rebounds per game. But the main problem lies with the man who manages the ball – the main problem lies with Deron Williams.
The three-time All-Star is looking more like an average role player than the leader of a title contender. Through seven games, Williams is averaging 11.1 points, 2 rebounds and 7.4 assists. His point and rebound averages are the lowest of his nine-year career, while the 7.4 assists is the second-worst average of his time in the league. He is shooting 41.7 percent from the field, down from 44 percent just one season ago.
Entering the season, Kidd mentioned Williams as a possible MVP candidate to which he responded to Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report,
“It definitely excites me when they’re talking about you like that. I feel like if we’re winning and I’m playing well, it will take care of itself. I don’t get caught up too much into that stuff.”
Unfortunately for Williams, there is nothing to be excited about right now.
So, how does Williams, who is supposed to be in the prime of his career, get back on track? The answer is no simple task, and one that will gradually develop as the season continues. To start, however, he needs to get more minutes. Williams is averaging just over 28 minutes per game compared to the first seven games of last season when he averaged close to 36 minutes.
Williams is a playmaker; if he is spending more time on the court, not only will it translate into success individually, but for the team as well. Thus far, he has dished out 52 assists, slightly lower than at this point last season. It is no coincidence that Johnson, who is averaging 12.4 points per contest, is not performing like he was one year ago when he was scoring upwards of 17 points per game. Johnson needs Williams, and Williams needs Johnson.
Of course, the Nets current roster has only played a handful of games together and teams simply do not gel right away. Deron, however, holds the keys to allow his team to unleash into the unstoppable force many thought Brooklyn would become. He just has to find them.