Lou Williams Is Reaching His Full Potential With the Toronto Raptors
At 33-15, the Toronto Raptors are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference. As of February 2, 2015, they were also only one of four teams on a win streak of five or more games; with the the Raptors hitting six. Due to their recent success, most of the focus is on the play of NBA All-Star, Kyle Lowry and former NBA All-Star, DeMar DeRozan, who has not played for almost half the season.
Although both players are influential to the team’s success, a player not normally recognized by the media may be the biggest factor behind the Raptors play midway through the season. This player has yet to start a game for the Raptors but is finding a role as the team’s best bench player and is on track to be in the argument for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
The player I am referring to would be undersized shooting guard, Lou Williams, who was traded to the Raptors from the Atlanta Hawks in a three-player deal this past summer. In his 10th NBA season, Williams’ numbers are currently at career highs, and his role as the first player off the bench for the Raptors is paying huge dividends for the second-place Raptors.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, in his first nine seasons, Williams averaged 10.8 points per game and had a Player Efficiency Rating of 16. Last season for the Hawks, Williams averaged 10.4 points per game and had a -5.7 plus/minus per 100 possessions. In those first nine seasons, Williams was classified as a point guard six times by basketball-reference.com, most recently playing 84 percent of his minutes as a point guard last year for the Atlanta Hawks.
Through 49 games for the Raptors, Williams is averaging 24.6 minutes per game off the bench, playing 99 percent of his minutes at shooting guard. Williams is averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game, shooting a career-high 5.3 three point attempts per game, and has a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.0, the second-highest of his career (in 2011-12 with the Sixers it was 20.2). Among other guards in the league, Williams also has a nERD efficiency rating at 6.2. nERD indicates how many wins above or below .500 an average team would win with a player as starter, so if the rest of the Raptors were average, they would be about six games over .500. John Wall's is just 5.0.
In addition to personal bests, Williams has been a huge addition to the Raptors, and the team is averaging 4.8 percent more points per game this season than last season. In 2013-2014, the Raptors did not have one bench player averaging over 9.5 points per game. Williams has yet to start a game for the Raptors and is the third leading scorer on the team and is third in win shares per 48 minutes at .168. While on the court for the Raptors, Williams adds 3.8 points to the offense per 100 possessions, while Lowry adds 3.1 and DeRozan decreases points scored by 2.4.
Sixth Man Material?
At this point in the season, Williams is currently a contender for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Comparing Williams’ stats to those of the past two winners through their first 48 games (Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith), it is clear that he is playing on the same level. Although Williams does not score as much, he is averaging a better plus/minus then both of the previous winners, further exemplifying his impact to the Raptors.
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Currently joining Williams among the top reserve players through this point in the NBA season is reigning winner, Jamal Crawford of the L.A. Clippers. When comparing the two, Williams and Crawford seem to be somewhat equal at this point in the season, each player having their own statistical impact on their respective teams. Because the award winner is chosen by sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada, it is important for Williams to maintain, if not improve upon his stats through the remainder of the season and ensure the Raptors keep their place in the Eastern Conference.
The past 10 Sixth Man of the Year award winners finished the season on a team that was fifth or higher in their division and of those 10 winners, seven were from the Western Conference, which may give Crawford a slight edge. Historically though, according to Basketball-Reference.com with the exception of last season with the Hawks, Williams has maintained or improved his stats post-All Star game. Not to mention, the Raptors schedule in April to end the season includes eight games against Eastern conference teams, none of which have winning records through this point in the season, giving Williams some games to bolster his stats.
According to our rankings, at this point in the season, the Raptors are a 100 percent lock to make the playoffs and are projected to have a 7.8 percent chance to win the NBA championship. Without Lou Williams and his career high numbers this season, the Raptors would likely not be in this position and would still be searching for additional help from a bench that is almost identical to that of the 2013-2014 season, of which did not have one player scoring more than 10 points per game. On the other hand, Williams should be thanking the Raptors for finding him the perfect role which he can excel at and play to his strengths.