I like Marvin Williams. He seems like a smart, experienced, and consummate professional who gives thought out, well measured answers to questions. This was obviously my opinion of him based upon his performance on Utah Jazz media day, so many months ago. I did not follow him in college. I did not watch a lot of Atlanta Hawks games unless I had to (because of the playoffs). I of course followed his numbers, game performance, and year by year statistics. I had an idea about his game based upon the evidence I had. However, my opinion of him overall changed significantly because of what he said on media day.
Before we get there, let’s get to the point. Sometimes we assume that a team is using a player at their best. Sometimes we assume the opposite as well. I think we can say that what we got out of Deron Williams is more than what the Brooklyn Nets are getting out of him. We can also honestly say that how we used Andrei Kirilenko wasn’t using him at his best. The other side of a transaction is saying good bye to the departed player. We were happy to see C.J. Miles go to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their enthusiasm for their new player almost exceeded our feelings of relief that he was gone. I was secure in my feelings that Marvin would be used better here in Utah than he was in Atlanta. That said, a number of vocal Hawks fans were happy to see him go. As the Cavs fans were happy to have C.J., so we were to embrace Marvin. Similarly, as we were happy to see C.J. move on, so were the Hawks fans with regard to Marvin.
And that’s where the hubris comes in. We are fans of our team, and fans of our players. And believe in our system, and think that we can do better with the same materials than other teams can. Using Marvin in the FLEX as opposed to the "stand around and watch Joe Johnson go ISO" offense would be a complimentary move for both Marvin and our team. This brings it back to media day. Marvin impressed the heck out of me. He was smart. He was a veteran. He was composed. And he did very well to not talk about water under the bridge. He did mention that, just perhaps, what he has previously shown on the NBA court was not all that Marvin was as an NBA player. And that his role, or how he was used framed his performance more than his talent and skill level did. In effect, had he been allowed to do more, he would have certainly done more. That’s what I read from his little sound bite. I think a number of other Jazz fans read it / heard it that way as well. I’m not going to search for the clip – but I do encourage others to do so, many of you are more well versed with the archives of the Jazz radio stations than I am.
Atlanta had Marvin Williams for seven seasons. And they had him from age 19 to age 25. And I felt like we could use him better than they did. Our offense wasn’t supposed to be a stand around and watch one player with the ball offense. Our team was built upon team play. And our roster was built around players of similar talent levels, and not two or three stars and 8 role players. I also felt like Marvin also had more to show than how he was previously used. And over all, I felt like the Jazz would do better with Marvin than Atlanta did. That is that hubris creeping up.
Assessing Marvin on the Jazz
Almost half the season is done and I am disappointed in Marvin’s production. I was convinced that he would be a force for our team – finally with that #2 pick monkey off his back – and convinced that he would be used better. Instead, well, some people around the NBA are calling this trade a bust. Surely we were ALSO using Marvin wrong. Right? Well, looking at his stats . . . you could argue that we’re using Marvin just like he was always used. And his numbers aren’t terribly off what he’s done his entire career. As a result, we need to re-evaluate what’s going on here:
- Option A: Marvin is who Marvin is. It’s not his role that matters, it’s that he’s a limited player and after 15,000 career minutes what you see is what you get.
- Option B: Marvin is not a good fit for this team. Maybe our offense is no better for him than the Iso heavy Atlanta offense was. And/or the players we have on this team compete against him in the same ways his former teammates did in Atlanta.
- Option C: Marvin can be great here, we’re not using him correctly.
The conventional answer would be Option A. My original idea was clearly Option C. Reasonably, then, the real answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what answer IS, the reality is that we’re paying a guy $8.3 million a year to score 8.9 ppg, grab 3.5 rpg, make 0.9 threes a game, assist 0.9 times a game, and steal and block 1.1 times a game combined. I’m not convinced that a) that’s as far as $8.3 million will get you in today’s day and age; or b) that’s all that Marvin Williams is capable of right now.
Marvin has some nagging injuries right now, and has had a number of injuries during his career. You don’t play over 15,000 career regular season minutes without facing some wear and tear. Injuries are a part of the game and a part of the reason that could be used to absolve some of his falling off. However, I don’t think injuries are the real reason for this drop off. I feel like it’s a combination of competition and role. Marvin can do some great things, but we don’t use him correctly. *AND* like so many other players on our team – there is a lot of competition, which ends up bringing everyone else’s expressed on court contributions down.
That’s how I feel now. And let me get into it.
Step 1: Competition
On the Atlanta Hawks, our guy Marvin was always relegated to a very small role. The paint was filled up with Al Horford and Josh Smith. And the ball was always in the hands of either a Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford type. What’s left? Hanging out off the ball in the corners. His shots usually came from no man’s land or from three, and if he was lucky enough to touch the ball in transition he’d make the best of it. Now on the Jazz? The paint is filled with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The ball is in the hands of Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward. Now there’s even a guy who lives in the corners in Randy Foye who also starts. Honestly, in our starting lineup when everyone is healthy (Al, Paul, Mo, Randy, and Marvin) Marvin is the 5th option.
It’s not just about shots, it’s about everything else. He’s putting up the lowest TRB% of his career, and part of that is always being on the floor with our behemoths. Marvin’s ORB% has never been lower. His AST% is below his career average because he rarely has the ball in his hands as the 5th option. His USG% is actually lower than it was in his rookie season, and below his career average as well. Marvin’s steals are below average, but blocks above average. Sadly, he’s also no longer going to the line.
Does any of this look familiar? This is the "ceremonial Andrei Kirilenko as a token starter" role that made him cry during the playoffs years ago. This is precisely what’s happening. This "play defense and don’t shoot the ball" role is perfect for Bruce Bowen . . . or DeMarre Carroll. It’s not the right role for someone who is languishing. Of course, the big problem is our offense. Our offense was supposed to free him here, but instead it’s put him in a cage. Why? Because he plays with Al Jefferson. Al Jefferson is the Iso-Joe Johnson offense, but this time in the paint so there’s no space for Marvin to at least get offensive rebounds anymore. This is a cruel twist of fate. If you traded Big Al (imagine his despotic statue being toppled in some central park area while the peasants celebrate) then you can redistribute 15.0 shots a game, floor space, and role responsibility more evenly around the rest of our talent core. Of course, we’re not going to do that. Big Al isn’t a despot. And we’re stuck with him taking 15.0 FGA to get 17.0 PPG. Which sucks for Marvin, because he’s waited 7 years for a larger role. He basically said so on media day.
Off the bench (let’s say we start DeMarre instead of Marvin) he has to contend with Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. Both of those guys need the ball in their hands too – but it allows (in principle) for Marvin to play against bench guys and torch them. Say we did move Big Al, and started Derrick Favors at center with Paul Millsap at power forward . . . then Marvin could even play some back up PF as Kanter plays the 5. Just a bit of back up PF so he’s can be posted up or use his driving and cutting abilities against slower fours – he’d still primarily be a SF though. This is something I’ll get into in the next section though. Right now there’s too much competition – and when we looked at the Go Ratings (and eGO) it became clear that we’re collection of talent that is so evenly placed that it’s not even that the guys who are the stars of this team are even stars in reality. It’s a jumble of 15 players who are all either second options or role players. And guys are being forced into roles that don’t fit their talent levels (put into roles too hard for them to fulfill, or put into roles beneath their abilities that it frustrates them). Still, Marvin off the bench would give him more responsibility and a larger role – especially if one of our bigs is moved.
Step 2: Building a Better Marvin
The first step of making a better Marvin is to see what Marvin is right now. And I don’t just mean what is he in this season, but overall. For his career he’s a guy who scores 11.4 ppg off of 9.0 shots per game, gets to the line 3.5 times a game, gets 5.2 rebounds a game, over an assist a game, and about one steal a game. He’s not super efficient, but he has three point range and hasn’t scored less than 10 ppg in a season since 2005-2006, which was 7 seasons ago. Well, until this season, that is. Hoopdata.com tells us that he is best around the rim, or close to it, even if that’s not where he’s primarily taking shots from. The more he played in Atlanta the more and more he became a jumper shooter from outside. That’s fine. He can hit jump shots. Synergy tells us that he’s not a bad spot up shooter. Synergy also tells us that he can do more though. He’s fantastic at moving without the ball, cutting, catching, and finishing. If he’s not making a bucket he’s getting to the line. This is also the case when he does post up. We’ve seen glimpses of this as he’ll post up against another SF, or a SG on a switch, and beast him. Marvin is a legit athlete and stands 6’9 tall – he’s not as strong or as husky as Paul Millsap, but where Millsap excels through quickness against some bigs, Marvin is even that quicker. It’s interesting – almost every time Marvin posts up we get some points out if it, either with a drop step or free throws.
So far we’ve identified getting more shots from close range, going to the basket, going to the rim, cutting, and posting up. This is effectively my formula for Al Jefferson as well; but the other thing Marvin can do is spot up and hit threes. He’s already a kick out guy for the three this season (attempting 2.6 threes a game), but the other problem is that we’re not getting him the ball enough in the other places where he’s effective. He’s taking 7.4 shots a game, and really, I’d like to think that in the true Flex offense that we should be running where there are shots for everyone, and we’re not relegating Marvin to Andrei’s role from 2006, then there should be at least 10 shots a game for him. More shots period. More shots on from where he’s good at. And more shots run from plays that take advantage of his strengths – cutting and post ups. Less reliance on spot ups for the majority of his points = a more active and engaged Marvin.
Frankly, right now he’s doing worse than he did in Atlanta. And in Atlanta he wasn’t being used right. I think there are a number of people who aren’t being used right on our team. But Marvin is a huge oversight because he’s a veteran, he’s talented, he has stuff in the tank, and he can give us something we need. Heck, Josh Howard took more shots a game as a member of the Jazz than Marvin is taking. I’m not advocating for Marvin to start chucking – but I’m saying exiling him to the role DeMarre should be playing isn’t helping anything.
I think Marvin could have been a 14+ ppg dude for our team. I still think he’s capable of doing it but a number of sacred cows on our team would have to be observed, re-evaluated, and given a different role for it to happen. If we’re unable to divorce ourselves from Al Jefferson, then Marvin could play the role of Millsap in an interesting way as a SF/PF off the bench who uses his size against smaller guys, and quickness against bigger guys. And he may be able to play that role from the bench full time with less fuss. Of course, I wouldn’t want Marvin to continue playing somewhere that doesn’t use him properly.
Part of what made me re-evaluate Marvin was his intelligence and measured responses on media day. And on that day he hinted that there was more to Marvin than we’ve seen so far in his 15,000+ minute career. His numbers both prove and disprove that premise. Maybe he is who he is. Maybe he could be so much more. Maybe it’s somewhere in between.
It could be confirmation bias here, but I think Marvin is capable of performing better than he is if he was playing a different role (given a bigger one), and playing with less inherent Jazz competition. Maybe the role can’t be changed and Marvin has to live with it. But the bigger point, the point bigger than Marvin, is that the competition is hurting everyone. No one is thriving on our team this season. Everyone is eventually going to grumble. Tyrone Corbin already is catering to players who grumble. It’s not the best situation – and even the biggest bed in the land can’t keep the chemistry neutral for long. At some stage, hopefully before next training camp, the Jazz will have to do something. It’s not like our team has huge talent gaps between the starter and the replacement. As a result the starters are watching their backs and not getting the time they should as starters, and the bench guys are not getting the time they deserve either as a reflection of how ‘less good’ they are compared to the guys they back up.
It’s not the best situation for everyone. Marvin may just be the canary in this mineshaft. Now let’s watch some dunks.