There is All-Star potential in the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup, and it’s not who you think. Yes, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan have been pivotal in keeping the Clippers afloat in an injury-plagued season, and are almost certain to be playing in the All-Star Game. The surprise of the season, and the engine that drives Los Angeles, however, has been 12-year veteran Lou Williams.
Williams was acquired in the trade that sent Chris Paul to Houston. At that time, Patrick Beverley was Los Angeles’ main return, while Williams was expected to provide the same scoring punch off the bench that earned him Sixth Man of the Year in 2015. A season-ending knee injury to Beverley, along with an ankle injury to Austin Rivers, has forced Williams out of his familiar role with the second-unit, and into the starting five.
The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Williams set up shop as the starting shooting guard on January 8 against the Atlanta Hawks, and has yet to lose. The Clippers have reeled off five wins in a row, including victories over the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets. Los Angeles’ recent win streak has propelled the team into the playoff picture, where they are currently the seventh seed.
None of this success would be possible without Williams. In the 125-106 win over the Warriors, Williams dropped 50 points and seven assists, highlighting the two areas of the game in which he excels. For the season, he is averaging a career high in points-per-game, with 23, and assists-per-game, with five. Williams can put up points, and does so with incredible efficiency. According to realgm.com, Williams is enjoying his second most efficient shooting season, with a true shooting percentage of 61 percent. His 3-point shot is flourishing as well, and his 41 percent success rate is the highest of his career.
What makes Williams so dangerous his arsenal of offensive moves. He uses off ball screens to get open on the perimeter, where defenders have to make the choice of closing out on him, or leaving a little space to ensure he doesn’t drive to the basket. Either way, Williams often makes the defense pay.
If Williams is able to penetrate the paint, the best option as a defender is to rotate over and cut off his path to the hoop. This is how Williams has excelled in dishing out assists, as the defense’s response to his presence often leaves another Clipper open. Williams’ willingness to pass can be a double-edged sword, however, as he is second on the team with three turnovers per game.
Williams’ ability to take over a game made itself evident in the final three minutes of the first half in Los Angeles’ 113-102 win over Houston. Trailing 51-48, Williams scored nine straight points and assisted on a Jawun Evans layup in the final 30 seconds, giving the Clippers a 59-56 lead at the half. The Rockets never led again.
Williams’ sheer scoring ability seems to be a perfect fit in Los Angeles’ offensive style. When Milos Teodosic is handling the ball, Williams can focus on playing on the perimeter, opening up the paint for
Griffin and Jordan. When Williams is asked to be the primary ball handler, he has a knack for getting to the rim or finding the open man when defenses send double teams his way. Suffice it to say, Williams makes the Clippers’ offense nearly impossible to guard.
The question now becomes, has Williams done enough to elevate himself into the All-Star conversation in a Western Conference stacked with quality guards? It will be hard for him to unseat one of the following: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, CJ McCollum, or Damian Lillard.
Just the fact that Williams is in the conversation for the All-Star Game in his 12th season is a testament to the impact he is having on the Clippers. As injuries began to pile up, it appeared the team would not sniff the postseason in their first season after Paul and J.J. Redick departed. It’s still too early to tell if Los Angeles will remain in the playoff picture, but Williams is making sure they have a legitimate chance. And, in the process, he has changed people’s perception of him from perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, to All-Star starter and key contributor to a potential playoff team.