Deron Williams hides from the Eastern Conference All-Star team's coaching staff. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Deron Williams will most likely be a member of the Eastern Conference All-Star team next month. He's been the third-leading vote-getter among Eastern guards through all three rounds of All-Star ballot returns thus far, trailing only Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics; as of the last published returns, the Brooklyn Nets point guard led Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving by more than 41,000 votes for third. While the East squad's coaches could choose Irving as the top reserve guard due to his more productive and exciting play for a moribund Cavs team, Williams' reputation seems to make him a pretty sound bet to take another one of the East's bench slots for the midseason exhibition.
If it was up to Williams himself, though, he wouldn't be heading to Houston. Not because he scoffs at the honor of making his fourth All-Star appearance or anything; rather, as he told Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York in a bit of refreshingly honest self-reflection, he just doesn't think he belongs this year:
But he doesn't think he has done enough this season to merit a fourth selection.
"I just think there's people playing better than me," he said Tuesday.
Even though there aren't exactly a plethora of no-doubt-about-it guards in the East this year, it's certainly true that a number of guys were playing better than Williams at the start of the 2012-13 season, and especially during a dire December that saw him bristle under Avery Johnson's control, struggle to both score and lead a flagging Brooklyn Nets team, and perhaps tilt the franchise's scales in favor of firing Johnson.
Through his first 30 appearances for Brooklyn this season, Williams had shot just 39.9 percent from the field, barely cracked 30 percent from long range and frequently seemed uncomfortable when tasked with the prospect of taking the reins for a Nets team in need of a No. 1 option; at worst, he looked like an average (or just-below-average) triggerman, and at best, he often seemed like a complementary player that had lost the playmaking edge that made him one of the league's most complete point guards in years past.
Since the turn of the calendar, though, Williams has looked much more like the player Billy King thought he was getting when he swung a blockbuster deal with the Utah Jazz before the 2011 trade deadline — in six games since New Year's Day, the 28-year-old point guard is averaging 19.5 points, 8.3 assists and four rebounds per game.
Williams seems to have found his long-dormant outside shooting stroke in the new year, hitting nine of 17 attempts (52.9 percent) from between 16 and 23 feet out and 14 of 29 3-point tries (48.3 percent) over the past six games, according to Hoopdata's shot location statistics. He's also stepped up his facilitating game, notching 50 assists against 15 turnovers since Jan. 1, with 31 of those assists leading to high-value field goals converted either directly at the rim or from 3-point range, according to Hoopdata. He's contributing by both scoring and dishing, and doing it without bogging down the Nets' offense; he's playing, if not exactly like the Jazz version of D-Will, then at least like a damned good facsimile thereof.
Not surprisingly — especially considering his revival has coincided with one by backcourt partner Joe Johnson (20 points per game on similarly scorching shooting marks over the last half-dozen) — his Nets have won all six of those games, including victories over the likes of the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder and Central Division-topping Indiana Pacers, and drawing within two games of the crosstown rival New York Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead. Brooklyn will look to improve to 7-0 in 2013 when they take on the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center on Tuesday night.
If the Nets keep winning and Williams keeps looking like the fire of old, he could also be the beneficiary of a glut up front in the East. With LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett likely locks to start in the frontcourt, the presence of definitely deserving reserve candidates like Tyson Chandler, Paul Pierce, Joakim Noah and Williams' teammate Brook Lopez, plus arguable cases like Josh Smith and Paul George, could mean that five of the East's seven reserve spots go to frontcourt players. If that numbers game somehow results in Lopez being squeezed out — which seems unlikely, considering he's been the biggest determinant of the Nets' success and is fifth in the league in PER, but could happen — then a Williams selection would be an easy way to represent a team ranked in the top four of its conference.
Even if Lopez doesn't factor into Williams' situation, though, the combination of his improved play of late, his All-Star/Team USA resume and the Nets' resurgence could elevate him above likely competitors like Jrue Holiday (who's cooled some during the Philadelphia 76ers' recent slide, but would probably still be my pick), the Milwaukee Bucks' tandem of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, or maybe even New York Knicks reserve J.R. Smith. While it'd be awesome to see one of those dudes make their first All-Star appearance — especially J.R. — if Williams keeps playing like the guy he's been over the past couple of weeks, fans will still be seeing one of the best players in the world. Even if he himself doesn't think he deserves a nod.
Hat-tip to Beyond the Buzzer.