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NBA Preseason 2013: Utah Jazz say goodbye to Mo Williams

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz have a history of making smart moves. Not every move is a home run, or shakes the landscape of the NBA; but, it could be argued that they rarely make a dumb move. As the front office appears to have, finally, embraced analytics -- the decisions makers of the franchise have made calculated, conservative moves this off-season. One of them appears to be saying goodbye to point guard Mo Williams.


My Feelings:

I like Maurice. He's charming, mature, been an All-Star, started on a team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals, and was supposed to be so good for us. He was confident and had a great smile. Essentially, a compatibility upgrade for our team over Devin Harris (who I felt like we didn't need to trade away, and let him play out a contract year with us). Mo could dazzle when he pushed the tempo, or made his own shot. It's hard not to cheer for someone who hit a game winning three at the buzzer against the San Antonio Spurs. And you can bet we cheered for that.

But as the season went on, Mo displayed a great variance in his performance on the court and his very confidence could have been the team's undoing at some points of the season. But beyond just this last season, within the full context of who Mo Williams is -- I still can't help liking him.

After looking at all of the data I recognize that maybe he just wasn't as good for us as we wanted, but sometimes the charming, confident guy with the nice smile and the flashy skill set (Devin Harris missed a lot of FTs (technicals even!) and air balled too many threes so that made Mo look even better) can appear better than he is. Like a teenage girl dating someone completely the opposite of their first boyfriend, Mo appeared so much greater than he was on paper compared to the under-appreciated Harris. Which is sad in a way, because many Jazz fans had a crush on him since we drafted him at the historically high value draft pick spot (Second Round, Pick #47 -- where we've picked Mo Williams, Paul Millsap, and Kevin Murphy). We wanted to be swept off of our feet after seeing Mo play so well and perform for us the way he performed in Milwaukee Bucks (17 / 6 / 5 / 1) and Cleveland Cavaliers (16 / 5 / 3 / 1) jerseys.

He helped us win some games, and perhaps facilitated losing some others. He was supposed to be a better fit for our roster, and in some ways he was. I still feel like we did not get what we were expecting from Williams last season, and because of his midseason injury we dropped out of the playoff race. It was for the best as we needed that lottery pick in order to make a package deal for rookie Trey Burke -- the heir apparent at the point guard position. Still, for whatever reason, I like Mo Williams.



How he got here:

Years ago we drafted Mo Williams (NBA Draft 2003: Second Round, Pick #47). As a rookie he was stuck behind Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez -- two apparently better point guards. At the end of an encouraging, but unspectacular, rookie season the Jazz had to part ways with the young prospect. Mo was an early entry candidate and then General Manager Kevin O'Connor suggested that had Mo stayed in college longer he would have been one of the most talked about players in the lottery. He publicly lamented the decision to let him walk as a free agent after the season, and wished him well. Williams signed as a free agent with the Bucks, and had some really good years playing with Michael Redd, as they formed a formidable shooting backcourt. Williams did not kill it from downtown as a rookie or in the NCAAs. But over his years in the NBA, with stops after Milwaukee in Cleveland and Los Angeles, he worked hard on his shooting and became a dead-eye marksman. This is what the Jazz needed to better compliment their robust inside game, as three point shooting wasn't just a glaring need -- the Jazz were downright anemic from outside the season before Williams joined the team. (In 2011-12 the Jazz ranked 28th out of 30 in three pointers made, 29th out of 30 in three pointers attempted, and 27th out of 30 in three point percentage.) In order to continue moving forward with the tandem of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap a dependable three point shooting point guard was needed, and thus, Williams was traded for.

The Jazz, along with the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, and Houston Rockets, completed a four team trade where the Jazz gave up Mehmet Okur's trade exception, the rights to Tadija Dragicevic, and gained the rights to Shan Foster (I see you, Andy) and our future starting point guard in Mo Williams. Two weeks later the Jazz would then complete another trade to move Devin Harris (in the last year of his contract) to the Atlanta Hawks for their pariah Marvin Williams -- who was sorely in need of a new environment.

The Jazz needed Mo Williams. They wanted Mo Williams. And the Jazz got Mo Williams. He said all the right things in the introductory presser, and the team upgraded one of their starters for basically nothing. Win, win, win, right?



Last Season:

As our starting point guard, Mo Williams' performance ranks on the team go as follows: he was #2 in MPG (30.8), #2 in FGA per game (11.6), #3 in 3PTA per game (3.3), #1 in APG (6.2), #1 in Turn overs per game (2.7), #2 in SPG (1.0), and #4 in PPG (12.9). Few players on the team had as much of an affect upon the outcome of games as he did as he was our quarterback out there. If you sum his USG% with his AST% and TOV% you get a tidy sum of 73.5. (Quick point of reference: Big Al's was only 44.6) That's a large number, and yes other players have much larger slices of the pie for other teams -- but for this Jazz team he positioned himself in a very prominent role on the court every game he played.

And that was a huge problem for the team when Williams suffered his annual slew of mid-season injuries. Coming onto our team, Mo had averaged only 65 games a season -- and played in only 81.6% of the available regular season games he could have, had he the constitution of a John Stockton. Last season he played in only 46, which was the lowest of his 10 year career. His various injuries in this one season alone bumped his percentage from 81.6% down to 78.9%. We missed Mo when he wasn't on the court because he was a large part of what we did normally during the early part of the season. Complicating things, but no blame here goes to Williams -- but instead the Jazz front office and coaching staff perhaps, were the in-season injuries to Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson. The Jazz fielded a point guard rotation of three guys on the wrong side of 30 who all were damaged goods, did not play Alec Burks at the point guard spot in training camp or preseason, and then were forced into playing him at point guard during our playoff push. It's crappy luck, but things got so bad in Pointguardville last year that the team was forced to buckle and buy out Raja Bell (they were planning on NOT buying him out) and signing NBA-DL star Jerel McNeal to a 10 day contract.

Injuries hurt Mo Williams' 2012-2013 season for sure. And some Jazz observers believe that had he not gotten injured the team may have made a stronger push for that last playoff spot in the Western Conference. (The Jazz would finish with a final win/loss record of 43-39, and a distant 9th place standing.) Another factor which negatively influenced Mo Williams' 2012-2013 season was his game itself.

This may sound harsh, but Williams' main strength within the offense head coach Tyrone Corbin 'ran' was his shooting. Mo's shooting, as previously stated, helped us win games and helped us lose games. His style of play remained somewhat consistent during the season; however, it was his on court production that varied greatly. Early on in the season Mo Williams took control of games, and helped us fight back and beat the Dallas Mavericks in our home opener (113-94) and nearly decapitated the San Antonio Spurs in their gym (100-110) a few days later. Where previous Jazz teams would fold because no one would step up, Mo's confidence and hot shooting kept us in games we would have usually lost.

As the season continued we saw that this was the new, mature Mo Williams that we had been missing all those years after picking Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez over him. What also happened is that eventually Mo Williams would also start missing . . . his shots. This was no more evident than during the early season loss on the road to the Boston Celtics (93-98). I, and many others, were convinced that we should have won that game -- which would have taken the Kevin Garnett monkey off of Al Jefferson's back. (Since being traded by Boston for KG, a team led by Big Al has never defeated the team that drafted him.) After the first month of the season we had seen this 'take charge' Mo Williams do good things and do bad things. The designation of if it was good or bad actually had to deal with the superficial idea of making the shots he took or missing them. The behavior was the exact same. I guess we would expect a cold shooting Mo to holster his guns, but that's just not the mentality that shooters go into games with. They always think they're going to make their next shot.

A gun shy Mo Williams would probably have been worse than the worst of Devin Harris -- because at least Harris penetrated at times and got to the line.

The conundrum was later branded as #MOLO. (A play on the #YOLO lifestyle) Eventually, in the big picture, it probably became the rally cry for some guys in the front office as well -- as they ended up keeping Mo for only one year. (You only get to run around crazy jacking up shots once in this life . . . )

Mo wasn't great on defense, and somehow set his teammates up at a near career low pace despite playing with so many finishers. That said, when he was playing he played a lot, which may account for his seemingly 'normal' per game averages. Williams finished the season with a 13 / 6 / 2 / 1 line. As a shooter, for the Jazz he did shoot 38.3 3pt% and 88.2 ft%, which were his big selling points before last season started. Over all, though, Williams' on court performance (as a product of statistical production) was much lower than his peak years with the Bucks and Cavaliers. Yes, his 13 and 6 season was a bounce back of sorts from his previous seasons playing behind Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups with the Los Angeles Clippers. But ultimately, it wasn't the line Mo wanted in a contract year, not the line the Jazz wanted for a potential playoff team, and not the line the fans wanted after being spoiled by All-Star point guard play for decades.

Stats aside, Mo got a chance to show what he could do on the court. He wasn't the 21 year old he used to be when we first saw him. His dedication to improving his shot has given him a skill all teams salivate over, and really, dude shot 29 3pt% in college and 27% in his rookie year. Mo is a hard worker. Gotta respect that. I can absolve his huge performance deviation from game to game because at least he had the balls to take control of games that were slipping out of reach. We lost a lot of games when he was injured (and he always gets injured), and we probably lost more games with his hero ball antics than we won as a result of them. But it was nice to see the Jazz front office attack a weakness so fiercely by picking up Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, and Randy Foye all in one off-season. Only one of those three returns for this upcoming season though, so, uh. #MOLO ?



Career in a Utah Jazz uniform:

Mo Williams played for us twice, as previously mentioned: his rookie year, and last season. In between those two years were stops all over the NBA. If you put it all together Mo Williams played 103 games in a Jazz uniform, and logged in 2,190 total career minutes with us. His first season had him as the 3rd stringer, and last year he was the starter. And as one could assume, when you put all the numbers together they meet in the middle somewhere between a bench warmer and a starter. The big thing that you must take notice of is his shooting, Maurice only shot 41.1 fg% from the field. He didn't take the 'easy' shots and his HoopData shot locations indicate as much. He was very good from the free throw line, making 84.4 ft%, though he only got to the line 1.4 times a game in his 103 games here. (As an aside, I get frustrated with a lack of min/maxing in NBA basketball. I hate it in tabletop RPGs, but here, in the real world, it's necessary. If you are great at getting to the line, be great at making free throws. If you are great at making free throws, get to the line as much as you can. Too often we have guys who get to the line a lot brick their shots (Alec Burks), or guys who are amazing at the line never go there (Mo Williams)).

The main thing Mo brought to the table as a Jazz player was the long ball. Mo shot 35.8% from downtown, which may not seem like much for a normal NBA team. The Jazz aren't normal and we don't usually go with the long ball, so Mo's three point ability kind of stands out when we've had so many other point guards be horrible at threes in our history. Last seasons' 38.3% is much higher than the Jazz PG average of 30.1%. If you look at things like TS% and eFG% his high FT% and three point shooting boost up his 41% FG mark -- degree of difficulty matters. And Mo took a lot fewer layups than John Stockton or Deron Williams used to take. His shooting percentages reflect that.

But there's more to Mo's life in a Jazz uniform than just shooting. The main role of the point guard in our system is to set the table for the rest of the guys on the court. This is not where Mo Williams thrives. For his career here he has averaged only 3.5 apg. That's not very much. Even worse was his 2.1 assist : 1.0 turn over ratio. As far as traditional point guard skills go, Mo's performance in a Jazz uniform did not put him on any All-Time lists.

He also averaged less than 1.0 steals a game, and less than 2.0 rebounds a game.

Over all a Jazz line of 8.5 ppg (41% / 84% / 36%), 3.5 apg (2.1 A:TO), 1.8 rpg, 0.7 spg, and 0.7 threes made a game (his specialty) in 21.3 mpg is not that impressive. As a bench player you love that. As a starter, not so much.



Highs and Lows:

For me a high will always be the certainty Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor spoke with when he drafted him, it all really starts there for me. So much so his eventual parting seemed like a bigger deal than it should have been. I had him on my fantasy team back in his Milwaukee days so I've seen (via numbers) some of his best games in his early career. But in a Jazz uniform I think his highest high was his one on one game winner against the Spurs long-armed Danny Green in the middle of last December.


There were lows as well, mostly whenever his hero ball / #MOLO would fail. But really, rationally, that's his game. We can't cheer when it works and boo when it doesn't, because that makes us hypocrites. That's just the law of averages. Sometimes it's going to work, and sometimes it's going to fail. But it's too much to put the props or blame for a win or a loss on just one guy. We still ended up winning the game where his hero ball didn't work once, remember?

Takin' the deep three with 14 seconds on the clock . . .

But I'm not going to eat his lunch for that. It's his game. And while he didn't have the season he wanted, or the season we wanted, he is still a Jazzman. We drafted him. We traded for him. And no matter what, I think I'll still root for him to hit those crazy shots to beat the Spurs in the future.



The Future:

And so here we are in the future, or well, I guess HIS future. His immediate future is with the Portland Trail Blazers, who mercifully signed him after he had to spend the majority of the summer as an unrestricted, and somewhat undesired, free agent on August 8th. With the Clippers he was a role player off the bench who had two higher profile point guards ahead of him. With the Jazz he was the starter for life, but the problem with the #MOLO life is that it doesn't last long. Now with the Blazers he probably returns once again to the bench, behind higher profile point guards -- the difference this time is that now they're both younger than him. He's now behind Damian Lillard, and possibly C.J. McCollum, but ahead of Earl Watson (whom Portland signed a month earlier than Mo was signed). And if you thought he'd get some burn at SG this year, well, he's in a crowded spot where Wesley Matthews, Terrel Harris and others will also fight him for minutes.

I guess things *could* be interesting if they attempt to play Lillard a bit off the ball, or in tandem with Mo -- but if you were going to do some experimental stuff, wouldn't Portland just roll the dice at times with the double-combo-guard lineup of Lillard / McCollum? Whenever Mo does play, you can expect that he will do whatever he can to help the team win; provided, of course, that it's something he can do on offense. You're just not getting 'winning plays' on defense from Mo Williams at this stage of his career.

In the end, Portland did a fine job of attacking their main weakness (which was bench depth). Mo helps there if he's somehow now willing to do the thing he didn't like doing with the Clippers. The Blazers are trying to make the playoffs now in hopes of making LaMarcus Aldridge want to stay in Oregon. (I'm assuming that's kinda what they want to do, keep him happy...)

Does Mo fit into the long term or short term plans? We don't know. He does have a player option for the 2014-15 season if he wants. Otherwise, he may be finding a home somewhere else in the future. He's on the downside of his career, and probably has one more good contract in him before he has to accept the "always a bench guy" role. That said, only a very special group of teams would really want a guy on the wrong side of 30 who misses like 20 games a year. You'd have to be good enough not to rely on him; which the Jazz weren't last season -- and that's why for us Mo meant that much More.



Jazz Legacy:

His rookie year wasn't much, and last year wasn't enough. If you made a list of the top 50 New Orleans / Utah Jazz point guards, playmakers, ball handlers, and floor generals you'd get a list that starts with John Stockton, Pete Maravich, Deron Williams, Rickey Green, and then . . . uh . . . Jim Barnett? Jim McElroy? It's a top heavy list. I know. I made it over the last week. (I'm just THAT crazy) If you looked at where Mo Williams ranks amongst them you'd see that he's:

  • #22/50 in most games (103)
  • #21 in total minutes (2,190)
  • #18 in cumulative MPG (21.3)
  • #13 in cumulative PPG (8.5)
  • #15 in cumulative APG (3.5)
  • #23 in cumulative SPG (0.7)
  • #28 in TS% (48.8) and #21 in eFG% (45.3)

By the numbers he doesn't appear that amazing. But let's parse the list of 50 players down to guys who have played at least 2,000 minutes in a Jazz uniform, and averaged at least 12.0 mpg in their careers here. Also, let's get rid of some guys who technically fit the previous list (because they were ball handlers), but not explicitly guys who were point guards (bye-bye Jeff Hornacek). This is a 20 person list. So, well, we can say that Mo is a Top 20 Jazz point guard. But really, he should be better than that right?

Against this group (n=20), the averages are nearly 8k total mins (thank John Stockton and his 54k in a Jazz uni), 9.4 ppg, 4.1 apg, and 0.9 spg. Mo is on the bad side for all of those. He does come out looking good on the three point shooting metrics, but that's really it.

And I guess this is what he really is, in the pantheon of Jazz point guards. He's a streaky three point shooter who can take over games, but we feel he should have been better than he was. By the numbers you can easily argue that guys like Devin Harris (the boyfriend we all broke up with last summer) was actually better -- dude has averages of 12 / 5 / 2 / 1, which is nicer than Mo's 8.5 / 3.5 / 2 / 1. Depending on what you value, you could also argue that players like Earl Watson (defense and mentoring), Carlos Arroyo (gamewinners like Mo, but higher stats), or even Derek Fisher (barf) have higher places in the Jazz point guard pantheon.

Mo Williams is a Top 10 Jazz floor general, and that's good enough for me. It should be good enough for him because it's a group that does start with Stockton, Maravich, D-Will, and Green after all. Should Mo have been the #5 guy? He easily could have maybe if we kept him all these years and he got to work on his shot with coach Hornacek for a few seasons. But that reality exists in a different hyper dimension from the one we live in right now.

Over all I think he has a positive legacy here with the Jazz; but we may not have seen the last of him. He looked really competent when he was making late game offensive / defensive substitutions from the bench when he was injured last year. Much more competent than our actual head coach who was oblivious to making offensive / defensive substitutions late in games.



Sayin’ Goodbye:

Mo, Molo, Maurice, I am going to miss you. Things did not work out for us back when we drafted you, and you had to go. But leaving Utah gave you a chance to grow and become who you are. When we got you back it was based upon a directed off-season move to maximize the abilities of Al Jefferson. We surrounded him with shooters, and you were one of the reasons why we won games. I'll never forget the home opener when we were losing to Dallas, but you took over in the third quarter, pushed the pace, and made a lot of shots. When no one else was stepping up, especially not our highest paid player that our front office moved Heaven and Earth to surround with complimentary talent, you did. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't.

I may have been upset during parts of the season, or laughed when things went out of control. But that's just how a season of ups and downs go. Living in the East I got a chance to see more of you in your non-Jazz years (including your All-Star year) than some other Jazz fans. I appreciate and respect you. I was so happy to have you on the team this year, and I wish you the best next year and beyond.

But for now it's time to say goodbye. You have Jazz fans, and you will always have Jazz fans because you are a Utah Jazz player. Our team wanted you. Our team drafted you. And we cheered for you.

Thank you always for beating the San Antonio Spurs.

Thank you for being our Maurice Williams before the rest of the league found out how good you are.

See you next season, you can really help the Blazers if they use you right and you stay healthy.

Good luck, and good bye for now. Your fans in Utah will cheer for you when you return as the visiting team again.