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What is the best role for Marvin Williams?

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An in-depth look on the Hornets power forward as he enters his fifth season with the Charlotte Hornets

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

If there are two things I’ve learned about the Charlotte Hornets fan base, it’s that the complications over Nicolas Batum’s contract are frustrating, and the debate over the team’s two power forwards is ever so complicated.

Today, we are going to focus on the latter.

Ever since his arrival to the Queen City, forward Marvin Williams has been a conflicting topic amongst fans and analysts alike.

Here is an example of such debates.

As you can tell, there is clearly a split among ATH readers on the topic of how much Williams truly impacts the Hornets starting lineup.

Let’s look closer into those factors and see if the Williams’ criticisms deserve rebuttal.

Tenure in Charlotte

Before we begin, we must first explain how we got here. After fan favorite big man Josh McRoberts left the Hornets in 2014, the Hornets needed to fill his role as a shooter in the frontcourt.

The ultimate decision was on Marvin Williams, a 6’9 journeyman and once the second overall pick in the 2005 draft.

The team signed Williams to a two-year, $14 million deal, and it proved to be an excellent pickup. In his final year of that contract, where he started 81 games, he proved to the not only the management but the city of Charlotte why he’s worth getting a contract extension.

The Hornets reached the playoffs that season, and Williams averaged 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 40.7 percent from 3 at nearly five attempts per game. He proved to be a reliable and capable perimeter threat for the team. With then center Al Jefferson mandating the inside, the Hornets found great success with Williams in spreading the floor for other shooters.

This career year began the situation where we are today.

After that season, the Hornets signed Williams to a four-year, $54.5 million deal during the 2016 offseason. This gave fans mixed reactions at first as there were other important pieces (ie. Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee), that they deemed were more valuable to the Hornets system than Williams. Either way, the signing solidified to Charlottians that he was here to stay, and that he could be a very reliable option for the team offensively.

However, that hasn’t really happened.

Over the last two seasons, Williams hasn’t been the same player he once was since that contract year, at least statistically speaking, averaging 10.3 points, and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 38 percent from beyond-the-arc.

The inconsistency more than anything has been the drastic difference as for his career year. Before, he always seemed to be on the mark offensively, however, since then he has had periods of very sporadic play on offense.

This lack of true efficiency has raised the eyebrows of many Hornets fans.

Why should an inconsistent scorer still be in the starting lineup?

With his shooting touch, why isn’t he the team’s 6th man off the bench to ensure offensive consistency?

Why is his points per game outside of the top 30 amongst NBA power forwards?

Here are some things to consider into deciding whether Williams should be regarded as a starter.

Is he really the “quarterback”?

Two years ago, Rick Bonnell recalled former head coach Steve Clifford regarding Marvin Williams as the “quarterback of the defense.” This is presumably due to his incredible basketball IQ. Having been in the league for well over a decade, Williams has become well aware of the way NBA offensives are run.

As a result, his overall understanding of certain plays and coaching philosophies has made him a “great” leader on the defensive end, especially towards the younger players. Over the past few seasons, Williams has taken in young players on the Hornets like Jeremy Lamb and former player Treveon Graham and tried develop their skills on the intellectual side of the defense. From on-court demonstrations to analyzing the game film off the court, Williams has established himself as a great veteran presence for the younger players on the roster.

But besides the intellectual part, is he himself a good “quarterback?”

For that, we have to dive into his defensive statistics.

Amongst all power forwards who played at least 25 minutes per game last season, Williams ranks in the middle of the pack (16) in terms of steals per game at 0.72. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as his lack of true explosion has caused him to lack in the steals department. This can also explain why the twentieth in the league with 0.49 per contest using the same criteria.

He plays unaggressive and rarely takes risks on the perimeter for a steal attempt or risk a potential open shot with a block attempt.

His advanced numbers are more the same, solid not elite.

His defensive rating has worsened from his time in Charlotte. He went from giving up 103 points per 100 possessions, to 109 points. The same can be said for his defensive plus/minus as that too has fallen during his tenure, from 1.8 in 2014, to 0.5 in 2018.

These numbers should relinquish at least some cause of concern. Having a constant decrease in defensive numbers is certainly no blowby statistic, and we shouldn’t treat it lightly.

One thing is for sure, Williams’ “quarterback” ability, at least on an individual basis, isn’t as supreme as people may think.

Volume v Efficiency

This is where the bulk of the Williams’ debate is.

Williams’ style of play on offense is drastically different than other starters in the NBA. He doesn’t have the shooter’s mentality that many starting caliber 3-point shooters have. He doesn’t take individual scoring into as much of an account as others. Instead, he acts more as a “glue guy” which forces him to concentrate on finding the “better shot” for his team.

This mindset comes with a big tradeoff. By not allowing yourself to find open opportunities for yourself, you drastically give up the opportunities to score with a high volume.

Despite that, Williams decides to run the unconventional route.

This lack of volume shooting causes the insufficient number of field goal attempts (8) per minutes played in a game (27.7). The lack of aggressiveness has also raised a lot of eyebrows amongst Hornets fans. For instance, if there are nights where Williams simply doesn’t feel satisfied with his shot selections, he would be “fine” with having a goose egg on the stat sheet if he helped his team in other facets on offense. This has lead to six games in which he scored zero points as a starter last year. Now that’s a type of feat that Tony Snell might be proud of.

When Williams does feel satisfied with the shot at hand, he doesn’t have the versatility that other forwards have.

Williams has strictly been a spot-up shooter throughout his NBA career. Besides cutting inside, he rarely creates his own shots for himself, especially from the perimeter. This is the reason why the majority of William’s offense comes primarily on the feet of the ball handler during that specific stretch.

That’s why he and point guard Kemba Walker has had a great relationship over the past four seasons. The chemistry between the ball handler and shooter has grown to the point where Walker knows where Williams wants the ball without ease. As a result, the two have become great pick-and-fade partners.

Here’s an example of that.

But whenever Walker is off the court, Williams becomes even more a shell of himself. Between Malik Monk, Batum and Lamb, none have been able to replicate the chemistry that Williams has with Walker, and thus those shot opportunities come fewer when Walker isn’t on the floor.

In fact, he has proven to have periods of being a total non-contributor on the offensive end if there aren’t any playmakers around him.

This brings up the dilemma of Volume v Efficiency.

William’s conservative offensive approach has to lead him to great efficiency; as for last season, he ranked 25th in the league in terms of overall 3-point shooting percentage from three. This is in the same ballpark as Kyrie Irving and Dirk Nowitzki.

However, the sheer volume of shooting is drastically different between the three. Williams ranked 83rd in the league in terms of total three points attempted last season. That goes to show you that he’s been a very lenient shooter and only decides to pull the trigger if he has to.

This brings up the main point, should Williams shoot more?

The answer to some is clearly yes, but maybe it shouldn’t be.

This leads us to our verdict.

Verdict

If Williams’ personality has shown us anything, it’s that he cares about others for than himself both between and out of the lines. Whether by teaching young players about the game, or helping them find open shots, he has placed a large emphasis on helping his team out. Maybe, as a result, he is comfortable in that role of being a pure veteran’s presence.

If that’s the case, then a move to the bench makes the most sense, right?

Well, that’s not the easiest of decisions.

The Hornets power forward position is by far the one with the shortest depth. Besides Williams, there are no other pure forward at that position. Sure, big man, Frank Kaminsky can theoretically become a fit, but his defensive liability is too much of a risk to take, especially in the starting lineup.

And unless rookie Miles Bridges and veteran Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suddenly show the capabilities of playing small ball four, then the Hornets are essentially stuck with Williams at that position, barring a trade of course.

I believe it’s time to distinguish the argument about Marvin Williams. Sure, he isn’t the most profound offensive player, and, sure, he doesn’t have the defensive intensity that we wish we got out of him, but that’s okay.

If we remember how successful teams are built, it’s by the guys “behind the scenes” who make as much of a contribution as the stars. It’s the guys who may not light it up on the stat sheet, but end up finding a way to contribute where the majority don’t see. Having a player like that can be very beneficial, especially as the team’s younger players develop. Without a conductor, there is no orchestra.

So don’t worry too much about Marvin Williams Hornets fans, he is the brain of the machine, and you should be satisfied by that.