Former head coach Tyrone Corbin was released by the Utah Jazz after they staggered to the finish line of a 25-57 season. The Jazz desperately need help on both sides of the ball: they can’t score (29th in the league in points per game), and their defense is far from elite (18th in the league in points allowed per game). Marvin Williams doesn’t fully supply either demand. Although he’s a serviceable defender, the burgeoning market for length along the perimeter and strength in the interior suggests the importance of his skillset in the marketplace is narrowing.
The truth is that Williams hasn’t wholly panned out in either Atlanta or Utah. He’s burdened by his contractual privilege—Chris Paul, David Lee, and Deron Williams were taken after him in the draft. Williams had perhaps his best all-around season in 2013-14. Sadly, it still wasn’t enough to merit his No. 2 draft position and it may not be enough to warrant an extension with Utah.
Since Williams was drafted by Atlanta in 2005, the label “project” has been affixed to his shoulders—he cannot seem to shrug it off. He’s not big enough to battle in the low-block and his slashing ability that made him an intricate piece of North Carolina’s national championship puzzle has fallen dormant in the NBA. Williams does possess a myriad skillset, but he’s a master-at-none type player whose position on the court is the antonym of solidified.
Utah took a low-risk chance on Williams by dealing Devin Harris for him in 2012. The irony is that Williams—despite not wanting to join Utah—was shipped from a system-less, jumper-heavy squad in Atlanta for perceived structure in Salt Lake City. A year prior, Sloan’s system would’ve been complementary for Williams’ talents, but Corbin’s scheme never meshed. His first year with the Jazz was the least productive of his career. This year wasn’t much better.
It would be unfair to call this an awful season for Williams, though.
His 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes and 50.3 percent on 2-point field goals were career highs. Something Williams brought to Utah this season was energy. On a team riddled with placidity and unenthused youngsters, Williams’ passion became a lodestone at times. There were games where his temperament corralled broken units and brought the crowd back into the game. Make no mistake, desire is a critical and infectious component of basketball—Joakim Noah attests to it every night. But competitiveness and a propensity for cutting along the baseline to finish at the rim are dwarfed by maladroit lapses on both sides of the ball that accumulated game after game.
Williams’ struggles this season may have had more to do with his positioning than his acumen. For the first time in his nine-year career Williams was almost exclusively used at power forward (95 percent of minutes played)—just two percent of his minutes were at small forward. His scoring dropped and he played to a career-low plus/minus of minus-5.8. In other words, the Jazz played nearly 6-points worse per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Although limited by injuries this season, Williams’ aptitude for slashing to the bucket and drawing contact became quiescent in 2014. For some reason, his scything capacities were defanged. His career-low 73 free throw attempts following a 2012-2013 campaign where he attempted just 99 are sufficient proof; Williams attempted 409 during his third year in Atlanta.
Shooting 34.4 percent from 10-16 feet isn’t going to cut it, and 36 percent from beyond the arc is as close to sub-par as you can get. You’re only a stretch-4 if you can do just that, stretch the defense. Williams knows this; we know this. Miami’s Chris Bosh shot a sliver lower than Williams, but he also has two inches on him. Situating Williams in the low-block was a mistake that the coaching staff repeatedly made in 2013-14.
In many ways, positioning players has been the ultimate crux of the Utah Jazz for the better part of the last half-decade. Coaches habitually glass over size in an effort to find atypically cohesive units. When you have players like Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, who can casually morph from center to power forward, you can do that. You should do that. Williams is of a different stature, though. He’s consistently smothered in the paint when they task him with guarding bulky power forwards, yet Corbin repeatedly requested that Williams flail around in the paint like a ragdoll last season. The Jazz must commit to Kanter and Favors holding the hybrid roles depending on circumstance, or succumb to another malady-riddled season. It’s blaringly evident that they can be effective—given the success they’ve had with Kanter/Favors fused between the power forward and center roles—just as it’s discernible that Williams became sieve-like when placed at the 4-spot.
Money will be a critical factor in whether the Jazz keep him around, it always is. Williams is going to take a significant pay cut from this year’s deal—$7,500,000—regardless of where he plays next season. If he’s stubborn on how much of a cut, then the Jazz likely cannot resign the 27-year-old.
Regardless of whom Utah selects to captain their ship next season, there are serious druthers that Williams can provide more than minute returns. Williams doesn’t need to be jettisoned from the league, though, he needs a systemic blueprint that can utilize him. It’s tragic that Williams will never linchpin a unit. He has steadily struggled in two different homes and will most likely be discarded to a third this summer. Hopefully Williams is given another chance on a club that can use him. It just appears that the Jazz likely cannot afford to be that franchise.