Long basketball careers are supposed to hew to a standard schedule. A player enters the NBA with considerable talent but a lack of experience, improves steadily as he learns more, hits his prime around 28 or 30 years old, and slowly deteriorates until he becomes a husk of his former self and finally retires after becoming a subject of internet derision. We see players at various points in this journey every season. It is the league's version of the circle of life.
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Minnesota Timberwolves Mo Williams is theoretically at the end-of-career portion of his basketball life cycle. The 32-year-old guard has seen a progessive dimming of his star since making the All-Star Game alongside Cleveland Cavaliers teammate LeBron James in 2009. He joined the Wolves as a free agent this summer with the intention of serving as a veteran presence on a young team but has been thrust into a larger role since Ricky Rubio went down with a high ankle sprain in this season's second week. He has responded by averaging 11.0 points on 39.7 percent shooting in 26.4 minutes, which doesn't exactly bode well for his future.
It is in this context that Williams has come through with the most surprising individual performance of the 2014-15 season to date. Minnesota visited the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night in the midst of a 15-game losing streak, just three defeats shy of the longest in franchise history. He responded by breaking the franchise single-game scoring record with 52 points, one more than Corey Brewer's equally shocking (or more shocking!) performance in the final week of last season.
Here's a look at his shot chart:
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) January 14, 2015
Yes, that's 19-of-33 shooting overall, including an absurd 17-of-29 on shots outside the paint. It was crazy enough that injured Pacers star Paul George could only look on in disbelief after one crazy basket:
The Wolves' 110-101 win has finally raised their record to 6-31, which makes the 5-35 New York Knicks the only five-win team remaining in the league. Yet the story that will remain not the end of the streak, but that of Williams, who joins Brewer and the immortal Tony Delk on the list of most surprising 50-point games in recent NBA history. Williams had previously scored 40 points twice in his career, hadn't scored 30 since March 2012, had only scored 30 twice in the last five seasons, and hadn't scored more than 25 points in a game this season. There was no evidence to suggest this was possible, let alone probable.
As if he knew to emphasize the ridiculousness of it all, Williams ended his night with an airball:
We should cherish this game, and not just because Williams almost certainly won't reach this scoring peak again in his career. His performance is the sort of randomly fascinating event that makes the logically too-long NBA season entertaining despite any reasonable arguments that it should be shorter. We don't know when another random veteran — C.J. Watson? — will put forth an unlikely 50-point game, but we will know that it will happen eventually. Thankfully, the NBA rewards our faith in the unexpected with amazing regularity.
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