NBA Free Agency: Utah Jazz forward Marvin Williams faces uncertain future

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The former #2 draft pick will face his greatest test in his career . . . free agency

This is the time of the year where everyone's draft coverage increases. The NCAA National Championship game is about to happen, and players are declaring for the NBA Draft. Some players will live up to their promise, others will fail to move beyond having potential. Still, others will come into the league and have other factors prevent their ascent. In the case of former #2 draft pick Marvin Williams we now see him as 27 year old who has come back from a number of injuries, and now facing the one thing he's never had to face before: a real NBA Free Agency period.

I cannot be reasonable about Marvin, but I will try. This could be a case of buyers ecstasy here because I think the Utah Jazz pulled one over on the Atlanta Hawks when Devin Harris away for him. What I thought we got was a dynamic forward who could defend either spot and would see a marked improvement this season as he was finally playing in an offense without a ball stopper like Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, or Mo Williams. I felt like Marvin would be free to take that left corner three pointer that he wasn't allowed to in the Alfense, and that being on a pass happy club that used his flexibility would see him doing everything from spotting up from deep to posting up other small forwards. Now with his second full season with Utah ending in six games I may need to re-evaluate what we got, and what we didn't get.

And for Marvin, sadly, he also needs to take stock into what's happening -- it's not just his performance, but it's the worrying trend that we're seeing right now. After the NBA Trade Deadline came and went so too did Marvin's game. I don't like it one bit, because usually in a contract year you finish strong. Or finish consistent -- which is what Richard Jefferson is doing. Marvin never had to really do this before. He was drafted #2 back in 2005. Then, as is normal, his draft team extended him beyond his rookie contract (like what the Jazz did with Derrick Favors, and failed to do with Gordon Hayward). And he was on the books for $37.5m per five. He didn't use his early termination option (hard to say no to $7.5m when he was already leaving over $1m in incentives), and now, for the first time ever, he's going to be an unrestricted free agent.

So let's start off by looking at who Marvin is, overall. My subjective idea of who is he may different from the numbers a little, so I'm going to stick to those. In college Marvin was a "one and done" who came to the NBA based on potential. At North Carolina he averaged 11.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 0.7 apg. He did shoot .506 / .432 / .847 and behind Andrew Bogut was listed as one of the top picks of the draft leading up to the draft. (It's not like he was an "out of nowhere" Anthony Bennett character.) For his career Marvin has missed a lot of games due to injuries, though he's no where near as bad as Andrei Kirilenko. Marvin's second and fourth seasons where where he missed the most time, but since coming to Utah he has played in 138 of a possible 159 games (so far), that's good enough for 86.8%. That's something that's a positive for sure. But the toll his injuries have taken on him are apparent.

This is who he used to be:


This is who he is now:


Yikes. Well, in his full, 624 regular season game, 18,193 NBA minutes career he has some obvious talents and flaws. Over all he averages 10.8 ppg, and does it by shooting well from the line (80.4 ft%, and 3.1 FTA per game), shooting okay from deep (33.6 3pt%, 1.7 tries a game), and being generally capable when called upon (44.7 fg%, 17.7 USG%, 7.2 AST%, 9.9 TOV%, 53.7 TS%). He's more than just a scorer, which is obvious, and he reigns in 5.1 rebounds per game, and can be counted on for 2.6 assists + steals + blocks a game. He does this play playing, on average 29.2 minutes per game, and has a career PER score of 13.6.

He's not a world beater, and he's less than what you'd want from a #2 pick. But I contend that part of that is a) due to the teams he has played on, and b) due to his injuries hurting him early in his career taking away that dynamic aspect from him. If you bump his numbers up to 36 minutes he's a 13.3 / 6/3 / 1.6 / 0.9 / 0.6 guy who gets to the line 3.8 times a game, and shoots 2.1 threes a game.

I love his three point range (it's gotten better with age), but it's come at a direct cost to his slashing / posting up. He used to get to the line a lot, and he was always very good from the line. He has had to change and adapt his game to not just his role with the team, but also the changes to his body as he gets older / progressively more injured. Not a lot of small forwards have his size, and not a lot of power forwards have his range and slashing skills. In my mind, beyond the numbers, I think he could still be a major weapon. It's easy to see why I say this, just look at his first game in a Jazz uniform again:


I miss that Marvin.

Instead of that Marvin we got a systematically marginalized Marvin for two years. Even while starting (he has started 99 of 137 games in a Jazz uniform), he was still used in confusing and increasingly frustrating ways. I can see how that would hurt a player. He came to Utah for a fresh start, changed his number to #2 (his second team of his NBA career, no doubt an easy switch as Paul Millsap already wore #24), and looked refreshed.

With the Jazz he has further evolved into an extreme version of his previously more well-rounded self. With the Jazz the first thing that you really notice is that he has more than doubled his three point attempts per game (1.3 per game in Atlanta, 2.9 in Utah), while shooting only 1.8% better. He posts up less and less, and doesn't cut as much either. Offensive one season he wasn't even allowed to take his pet shot (left corner) because of the Xs and Os. Offensively Marvin appears to have been as abused in Utah as he was in Atlanta playing with all those ball hogs. As an aside, I can only dream of what Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson would have done with a guy with Marvin's multiple tools.

His per game stats in Utah are 8.2 ppg (.433 / .347 / .776), 4.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.7 spg, and 0.5 bpg. He's also playing nearly 6 fewer minutes per game so let's try to see what these match up like for per 36 minutes (like to like):

G M MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3PT% FT% FGA 3PTA FTA
Career 624 478 36 13.3 6.3 1.6 0.9 0.6 44.7% 33.6% 80.4% 10.8 2.1 3.8
Atlanta 487 379 36 13.6 6.3 1.6 0.9 0.5 45.0% 32.9% 80.6% 10.8 1.6 4.2
Utah 137 99 36 12.0 6.3 1.7 1.0 0.7 43.3% 34.7% 77.6% 10.6 4.2 1.8
Uta - Career -487 -379 0.0 -1.3 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.1 -1.4% 1.1% -2.8% -0.2 2.1 -2.0
Uta - Atl -350 -280 0.0 -1.6 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.2 -1.7% 1.8% -3.0% -0.2 2.6 -2.4

Aaaand we see things are going in an extreme fashion. Per 36 for his career he went to the line 3.8 times, and took 2.1 threes. In Atlanta it was 4.2 and 1.6. And in Utah it's 1.8 and 4.2. It's almost completely flipped. And the rest of his numbers follow en suite. He is a better three point shooter though. So if that's the only thing you care about, it's been win-win for Marvin. (His actual per game averages show this as well, but the minutes are all over the place.)

I don't think anyone who was scouting Marvin back when he was in college felt like he'd be a below average efficiency player (PER of 13.6) who got to the line less than 2.0 times a game and just took threes as the main staple of his diet (39.6% of all his FGA per 36 minutes are threes, a smaller number of runners, drives, posts ups, and layup/dunks).

But that's who he has been with the Jazz. These players don't usually make a lot of money. And if we're being honest here, not a lot of starting power forwards average 12 and 6 per 36.

Which brings us to the point that Marvin hasn't been having a great contract year.

He was not terribly good last season (7.2 ppg, 42.3 fg%, 32.5 3pt%, 3.6 rpg, still started 51 of 73 games). And his advanced stats were even worse. (PER of 10.9 is where it starts, and then it goes down hill from there). But that was LAST season. This season, by comparison, he's having a great year. But it's still not a real contract year. Take a look at the most simple of stats, year by year:

Team Season MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG BARPS / Min
1 ATL 2004 2005 24.7 8.5 4.8 0.8 0.6 0.3 15.0 0.61
2 ATL 2006 2007 34.0 13.1 5.3 1.9 0.8 0.5 21.6 0.64
3 ATL 2007 2008 34.6 14.8 5.7 1.7 1.0 0.4 23.6 0.68
4 ATL 2008 2009 34.3 13.9 6.3 1.3 0.9 0.6 23.0 0.67
5 ATL 2009 2010 30.5 10.1 5.1 1.1 0.8 0.6 17.7 0.58
6 ATL 2010 2011 28.7 10.4 4.8 1.4 0.5 0.4 17.5 0.61
7 ATL 2011 2012 26.3 10.2 5.2 1.2 0.8 0.3 17.7 0.67
8 UTA 2012 2013 23.7 7.2 3.6 1.1 0.5 0.5 12.9 0.54
9 UTA 2013 2014 25.7 9.3 5.2 1.2 0.8 0.5 17.0 0.66

It's a great bounce back year from his worst year of his career. But it's not eye-popping. Actually by direct comparison, let's look at Matt Harpring contract year back before he got his last big contract of his career:

Per Game (Harpring '05-06 vs. Williams '13-14):
Team Season MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG BARPS / Min
1 Matt 2005 2006 27.4 12.5 5.2 1.4 0.8 0.2 20.1 0.73
1 Marv 2013 2014 25.7 9.3 5.2 1.2 0.8 0.5 17.0 0.66
Marv - Matt -1.7 -3.2 0.0 -0.2 0.0 0.3 -3.1 -0.07

Per 36 (Harpring '05-06 vs. Williams '13-14):
Team Season MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG BARPS / Min
1 Matt 2005 2006 36.0 16.4 6.8 1.8 1.1 0.3 26.4 0.73
2 Marv 2013 2014 36.0 13.1 7.2 1.7 1.2 0.7 23.9 0.66
Marv - Matt 0.0 -3.3 0.4 -0.1 0.1 0.4 -2.5 -0.07

Harp gave it his all, was more efficient, just as good on the glass, and is clearly the better performing player. Of course, there are other things to take into account, Marvin is two inches taller, at this point in time 2 years younger, is a more frequent three point shooter, and capable of starting at PF in this league. But by the numbers one of them looks like they stepped up for their contract year. Harpring ended up earning $25 million for four years. It was so much that the Jazz had to trade him away because they couldn't afford to pay him through all the diminishing returns.

We're almost at the diminishing returns phase of Marvin's career too. He's driving less, spotting up more. He's one inch in height and a medical marijuana prescription away from becoming Sam Perkins without the interior defense and rebounding. Or a poor man's Rasheed Wallace without any of the blocks or technicals.

These are not comparisons we'd wish to make, but if Marvin is going to be a stretch four going forward these are the guys he has to complete against. Actual bigs who actually specialize in threes. Marvin isn't either of those guys, and he's not Mehmet Okur either. It's closer to Anthony Tolliver, which is sad. Per 36, in Utah, Marvin is a 12 / 6 / 2 / 1 / 1 guy who hits threes at a 35% rate. Per 36 Tolliver is a career 11 / 7 / 2 / 1 / 1 guy who hits threes at a 35% rate.

Marvin was the 2nd pick of the draft, and Tolliver used to play in the NBA-DL.

That's not the saddest part of this story. The saddest part is Marvin's performance after the trade deadline.

In the 22 games since the deadline Marvin has fallen off the face of the earth. He's averaging 6.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.8 spg, and 0.4 bpg. He still has been the main starters since that time, but his minutes have been severely pulled back to 21.9 mpg. But the rates speak volumes. Per 36 for THIS season Marvin was a 13.1 / 7.2 / 1.7 / 1.2 / 0.7 guy. Per 36 post trade deadline he has dropped to 11.0 / 6.7 / 1.1 / 1.2 / 0.6. He has kept his steals and blocks up. The assists are right there too. But there are drops in points and rebounds -- which are usually two of the three things you care about as a power forward.

The warning bells come in a few places.

  • Shooting vs Making: For his career Marvin is a 44.7 fg% guy, and for the season he's at 44.1 fg%, for this post-trade deadline stretch he's at 41.2 fg%. He's at 27.0 3pt% right now too. That is really low for a stretch big. Even his free throw shooting (a career 80% guy) is off, he's not at 72.0 ft%.
  • Effort: fouling isn't effort, but at least it means you are trying to stop the other guy even if you are breaking the rules to do so. He has gone from 3.3 fouls per 36 minutes this season down to 1.1 fouls per 36 minutes this season. Call me a caveman, but I don't want my power forward being so hands off.
  • Shot distribution: We've gone over how Marvin is taking more and more threes over anything else. It's true. It's even worse now. In this post trade deadline stretch he's now taking three pointers as over 40% of all the shots he takes, and when compounded with the fact that he gets to the line 1.0 times a game shows how far to one side of the equation he has become.

It's not all bad, two of his best games of the season happened during these last 22 games (Feb 24th vs Boston, Mar 10th, vs Atlanta). But most of it is bad. His shooting is gone. His effort looks low. He is playing fewer and fewer minutes. And he's not finishing strong. If recency bias is real, then finishing the season shooting .412 / .270 / .720 as a guy looking to play in his 10th year in the league is going to hurt him.

And that really sucks for me, an unashamed Marvin Williams fan. (If I bought jerseys, his would be one of the ones I would buy this season) This may also mean that he's not going to command top dollar on the free agent market. Which means the Jazz should be able to get him back if they want him. I don't know if Marvin wants to be back (I'm sure he'll not say no though), but his play after not being traded could be an indication of a big let down. Maybe he wanted to go to a contender? Maybe his agent told him he would have a better chance at a longer contract if he latched on and had a good playoff run?

I don't know.

I do know that Marvin has an uncertain future. This is his first real free agency period of his life. His rookie contract was set by the rookie scale from his draft spot. He had enough promise that it was a no-brainer to pay him after his rookie contract was set to expire, and extending him for so long only made sense because of how young he was. Now all of that has changed.

He had a great bounce back season, even if I believe he's not being used correctly. I think he has plenty to give a good team or an up and coming one. And I would not hesitate to try to bring him back. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey will probably be more preoccupied right now with a) the NBA Draft, b) Gordon Hayward 's RFA status, and c) the possible extensions for Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. Marvin is down on the list for sure.

But he's on my list. And while I don't have high hopes for him to turn it around and have a stand out contract year, I do think that he could be a nice part of what we do in the immediate future -- as a bench player spelling either the SF or PF and taking advantage of mismatches more.

I like Marvin. I still believe that some of his potential is still there. He's not going to be a world beater, but he's a great example of how crazy the NBA draft process is. I don't know what his future holds. And by his play after the trade deadline, I don't think anyone does either.

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