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Lou Williams occupies a unique spot in today’s game. The preps-to-pros success story remains a dynamic scorer capable of directly altering the outcome of every game he plays in, but he’s also long been a small-for-the-position defensive liability whose shoot first-second-and-third game can hurt his squad if his shot’s not falling. That’s why, despite his evident offensive gifts, Williams has developed into the NBA’s preeminent “have gun, will travel” microwave since leaving the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency in 2012, playing for five teams in the last five seasons.
After one of the most explosive individual performances of the campaign to date to cap a very strong first half of the season, though, it doesn’t feel crazy to ask whether Williams should soon find himself wearing another new jersey — an All-Star jersey.
Williams captured the basketball-watching world’s attention on Wednesday night with a 50-point annihilation of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors — a performance in which he dropped a season-high 27 points in a single quarter, in which he also dished seven assists (six leading directly to dunks or layups) to account for 14 more points and in which he became one of 40 players in the past 55 years to score 50 or more points on 27 or fewer field goal attempts, and one that he capped with an all-time eff-it shrug of a bomb:
After dominating the NBA’s best team and its third-ranked defense with an array of long-range missiles, off-the-dribble pull-ups and hiccup-quick jacks over step-slow stoppers, Williams enters the Clippers’ Thursday night game against the Sacramento Kings averaging a career-high 22.9 points per game, one-tenth of a point ahead of Blake Griffin for tops on the Clips and 16th in the NBA as a whole. (He’s also 16th in usage rate — the share of a team’s offensive possessions that a player ends with either a field goal attempt, a foul drawn or a turnover — commandeering a smooth 30 percent of L.A.’s offensive trips when he’s on the court.)
It’s not like Lou’s dining out on one big game; as my old friend Kelly Dwyer wrote last month, it’s long felt like Williams hadn’t missed a shot since returning to the City of Angels. The 31-year-old one-man bucket brigade is averaging career bests in minutes and assists per game, 3-point and free-throw percentage, and assist percentage, notching a direct helper on more than 27 percent of his teammates’ possessions during his floor time to double up a perfectly respectable turnover percentage (13.5 percent) for someone who’s on the ball as much as Williams.
A Clippers team that looked left for dead before Thanksgiving due to a plague of injuries that have kept Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic on the shelf for extened periods now finds itself at 19-21, just two games south of .500 and one game behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. That’s not entirely due to Williams’ work — DeAndre Jordan remains a double-double machine and two-way influencer in the middle, Austin Rivers provided punch and passion before he too went down, and coach Doc Rivers has gotten better-than-expected results from a Clipper bench stocked with deep-rotation coin-flips (Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Wesley Johnson), unproven youth (rookies Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans) and G-League finds (C.J. Williams, Jamil Wilson and Tyrone Wallace). But an offense that many expected to decline without former All-Star table-setter Chris Paul, and that everybody expected to fall off a cliff once basically the entire starting lineup got hurt still ranks 10th in the NBA in offensive efficiency this season, and fourth over the past 10 games.
The Clippers have stayed afloat thanks largely to Williams’ persistent ability to put up crooked numbers. Only James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and DeMar DeRozan have as many 35-plus-point games this season as Lou By God Williams. Not only that, but a player you might view as an inveterate gunner has also become one of the league’s most efficient scorers. He’s one of just six players this season to use at least 30 percent of his team’s offensive possessions and produce a True Shooting percentage (which takes into account 2-point, 3-point and free-throw accuracy) of at least 60 percent. The other five — Harden, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo — will be suiting up at Staples Center on All-Star Sunday.
The biggest impediment to Williams joining them? The West, as ever, is stacked. There are only 12 spots per conference, and the competition’s fierce, with Curry, Harden and Russell Westbrook topping fan ballots and looking like stone-cold locks for inclusion. Jimmy Butler’s going to get a spot, too, in recognition for his work in turning around the suddenly dangerous Minnesota Timberwolves.
Chris Paul might get dinged for missing time with injuries, but if he stays in the lineup and keeps the Rockets rolling over the next month, the nine-time All-Star figures to have a strong case for a slot. Klay Thompson’s individual scoring is down this season, but his shooting efficiency is through the roof, he remains a widely respected defender, he’s still the No. 3 guy on the best team in the world, and he could benefit from voter inertia coming off three straight All-Star nods.
At least one of the tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum could (and probably should) get consideration for the steps they’ve taken to help build the Portland Trail Blazers into a top-tier defense and boosting them back into the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. If you’re looking for a high-scoring and fun volume-shooting guard on a non-playoff team, well, how about Devin Booker? And that’s before we get to considering non-starter frontcourt options (LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, Karl-Anthony Towns, Paul George) who might be more likely to receive a reserve nod from the coaches than a player who, despite his offensive heroics, has remained a net negative this season. When the selections shake out, it’s more likely than not that Williams once again finds himself on the outside looking in.
That’d be understandable — there’s a lot of very good players in the West! — but man, it’d be cool to see him get there. Outside of year-end Sixth Man of the Year trophies, players of Williams’ stripe — whippet-thin dynamos capable of overwhelming opponents with almost-instant avalanches of points before they know what hit them — are a dying breed nowadays, and almost never get the recognition they deserve. And as defensible as it is to reward the stately and steady high performers of the NBA for their excellent play through half the season, it seems downright wrong that these sorts of dudes — the electric shake-and-bake step-back artists like LouWill, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, et al. — don’t get their just due come the nationally televised defense-free exhibition. (God, they’re just perfect for it.)
Then again, maybe that’d be besides the point. Maybe Lou Williams doesn’t really care all that much about showing up in the league-sanctioned midseason showcase, because for a player so singularly focused on burying you in buckets, every run-of-the-mill Wednesday or Thursdays a chance to welcome you into his own personal All-Star Weekend.
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