The Charlotte Hornets have proved everyone wrong with the Eastern Conference’s 6th best record, and the entire NBA’s 11th best record. There are many reasons for their improvement from the 33-49 team they were last season to the 34-28 record they currently possess, but Marvin Williams‘ play is a big one, if not the biggest.
Williams was selected with the 2nd overall pick in 2005. The Atlanta Hawks selected him after an impressive freshman season for the North Carolina Tar Heels. The thought was that he would use his height (6’9″) to become the game’s next dominant small forward.
Sadly, Williams was never able to become a dominant player. The most points he’s ever averaged was 14.8 during the 2007-2008 season to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 46.2% shooting. Those numbers aren’t bad, but when considering that Atlanta chose Marvin Williams immediately before Deron Williams and Chris Paul were selected, it does put a stain on any production from Marvin Williams that doesn’t reach the level of Paul and Deron Williams.
Because of this, his great play at the power forward position has been massively overlooked. There is no discussion around Marvin Williams’ play. The Hornets are one of the lesser talked about teams in basketball, and when they are talked about, it is mostly about Kemba Walker or Al Jefferson. Williams, however, has been one of the best players, and the advanced, and even some basic, stats show this.
Williams is averaging 10.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Those numbers aren’t horrible in under 30 minutes per game (29.2,) but it is what the casual fan sees as Williams’ production. He has been so much more this season though.
Williams is 35th in the NBA in win shares with 5.7. That is more than Andrew Wiggins, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Vucevic, John Wall, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Dirk Nowitzki and hundreds of others this season. This credible statistic is saying that Williams, a “role player,” is responsible for more wins than all of the players I just listed. Cousins, Wade, Anthony, and Wall were all-stars this season. 21 of the 34 players with more win shares than Williams were all-stars.
Now, the question that must be asked is whether or not these players played as much as Williams. A lot of the players Williams is ahead of in the win shares rank have suffered an injury or simply played less minutes and/or games, but Williams is still 51st in the NBA at win shares per 48 minutes with .152. In other words, Williams is playing productive and winning basketball in significant playing time. Most of the players seen in the above table have more minutes played than Williams too. All but Parker and Wade do.
Something Williams is doing and has done on a historic perspective is taking care of the ball. While Williams is not asked to do much ball handling, 30th all-time in turnover percentage is no easy task. Williams is 7th in turnover percentage this season.
Also impressive is the fact that Williams is 31st in the league in Value Over Replacement Player. That stat is even more typically reserved for star players than win shares. The idea that Williams is a league leader in VORP despite starting over some pretty good front court players on Charlotte like Spencer Hawes, Krank Kaminsky III, and Tyler Hansbrough is very impressive.
Williams has a higher VORP than all-stars DeMar Derozan, Dwyane Wade, and LaMarcus Aldridge. All of those other players play at an all-star level, or in Duncan and Nowtizki’s cases, are first ballot hall of famers to be.
Williams, even though he only scores 10.9 points per game himself, is responsible for more scoring than that. Box Plus/Minus is a stat that measures points per 100 possessions contributed above a league-average player, and Williams outperformed notorious scorers Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Bosh, and Gordon Hayward. He also out performed great players like Nikola Vucevic, Marc Gasol, and many others as he was 41st among players who played at least 16 minutes per game in at least 20 games this season.
Williams is also 24th among the same players (at least 16 minutes per game and 20 games played) in offensive rating (116,) and after spending his career labeled as a player who can’t play defense, he is 64th in defensive rating (103.) Those rankings are indicative of a player who has committment to both sides of the ball and to honing his craft of the “three and D” player.
All of these stats, while impressive, are still just stats. These stats are evidence of what Hornets fans see out of Williams. He has played and started every game for the team, and every night Williams comes to play team basketball. The Hornets played way too much isolation basketball last season, and that is why they were just 33-49 and with the 3rd least efficient offense in the NBA. Now they have the much improved 13th best offense in the NBA. Williams’ improvement is a major cause for that.
This may not have been the role analysts and fans predicted for the highly touted Williams back in 2005, but he has certainly been effective in his role. We will see how Williams performs when the lights are truly on in the playoffs this year now that Williams has helped the Hornets return there.