The additions of Wesley Johnson and Nick Young (and even Jordan Farmar) were nice; Dwight Howard's departure was even better. But more than D'Antoni needed athleticism, immodest shooters and another point guard, he needed a stretch forward. And at long last, he got one.
If you listen closely, you can still hear the sounds of D'Antoni doing the "Cotton Eye Joe" while mouthing the chorus to "Shots."
Williams isn't Kevin Love or Ryan Anderson. He's not even Austin Daye. That doesn't mean the Lakers, specifically Magic Mike, don't need him. Their offense does, or at least someone like him. Since I'm told the only team with enough second-round picks to acquire Ersan Ilyasova from the Milwaukee Bucks is the Milwaukee Bucks themselves, Los Angeles rolled with Williams.
This time of the year, when serviceable free agents are scarce and sufficient shooting close to nonexistent, the Lakers could've done much worse (insert Michael Beasley joke here).
Williams has only ever been a fit with D'Antoni.
He's bounced around the league since being drafted in 2006 and has never embedded himself into a steady rotation—except with D'Antoni.
The Indiana Pacers never let him crack 15 minutes per game, the Dallas Mavericks only played him 15 times and the then-New Jersey Nets lured him away from the New York Knicks only to trade him halfway through the lockout-condensed season.
In New York, with D'Antoni, though, Williams found a home. A real home. He appeared in 64 games and notched career highs in minutes (20.7), points (7.1), rebounds (3.7) and three-point shooting (40.1 percent).
The Knicks weren't a juggernaut in 2010-11, but they were a playoff team. More importantly, they ranked seventh in offensive efficiency and eighth in three-point shooting (36.8 percent). And Williams was a part of it all, knocking down shots as a stretch 4.
Most of his minutes under D'Antoni came at the power forward position, so playing there isn't going to be a problem. With Kobe Bryant still recovering from a torn Achilles, Ryan Kelly nursing some foot injuries of his own and Jordan Hill's complete lack of shooting prowess, finding him minutes won't be an issue, either.
Better still, Williams was one of just four players who logged 20 or more minutes a game in 2010-11 to average at least 12 points and 6.5 rebounds per-36 minutes while shooting 40 percent or better from deep. He and Love were the only two to do so while jacking up more than one trey a night.
No, Williams isn't Love. Nor is he close. But we know he's a fit with D'Antoni.
Just as we know that Johnson is athletic enough, Young trigger-happy enough and Steve Nash unselfish enough to play in D'Antoni's offense, we know that Williams can thrive as the stretch 4 Los Angeles didn't have before.
Everything Jordan Hill Doesn't Have
So, three-point shooting.
Hill has been asked by the Lakers to work on his outside shooting. Or as you may see it, they've asked him to become everything he's actually not.
Hill has taken nine three-pointers through his first four years in the NBA. Nine. Anderson hoisted up 6.9 a game for the then-New Orleans Hornets last season. Howard himself took 10 through his first four seasons, and he actually hit one. But yeah, turn to Hill for a majority of your stretch 4 needs. That sounds like a full-blown effort to tank winning idea.
D'Antoni could have (and still can) call upon Ryan Kelly to come in and space the floor, but 1) it's unlikely his 40-plus percent three-point clip from his last two years at Duke holds up in the NBA and 2) McMenamin writes that the Lakers aren't even sure if he'll be ready for training camp. Aside from playing Johnson or Young at the 4 or asking Chris Kaman to develop an outside touch without laughing, they were out of viable options.
In now comes Williams, who has one year's worth of familiarity with D'Antoni's offense to his name. He can advance the floor-spacing dynamic in ways Hill never will and ways Kelly isn't ready to.
Williams has hit only 33.5 percent of his career three-point attempts, but we're not interested in his tenured numbers. His 40.1 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc in 2010-11 is what catches our eye. Not entirely because it came under D'Antoni, either, but also because the Lakers finished 19th in three-point percentage last season (35.5).
If Los Angeles' newest addition is able to duplicate his outside performance from two years ago, the team doesn't just have the stretch 4 it needs; it has the three-point gunner it craves as well.
Of the Lakers' top-eight three-point shooters from last year, five of them are gone. And of the three that remain—Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks—only Nash played more than 20 minutes per game and shot better than 36 percent from behind the rainbow.
Between all the fresh acquisitions, the Lakers brought in two players with career three-point clips above their season average last year—Young and Farmar. Are either one of them fit to play power forward? Absolutely not. Neither is Hill.
Stretch forwards are an imperative aspect of D'Antoni's offensive system. Now the Lakers have one. Until Hill, Kelly or someone else proves otherwise, he's their only one.
Pau Gasol should send Williams a thank-you note in advance.
Finally alongside a floor-spacing forward, Gasol no longer has to share the post as much as he would have. Williams isn't an off-the-dribble or back-to-the-basket scorer. He has the size and, when in shape, the build necessary to set up on the elbows, but he doesn't.
Below you'll find the percentage of his shots that have come from various locations on the floor, courtesy of hoopdata.com.
Just for the hell of it, let's see the career shot distribution for the stretch-forward-in-training Hill and Gasol's previous frontcourt partner, Howard (since 2007), compared to that of Williams' (locations are rounded to nearest percent before calculating, so these are rough estimates):
Williams is clearly the more palatable frontcourt companion of the two, since he's more accustomed to stepping outside of nine feet. But it's more than just about permeating the post. He gives Gasol exclusive access to the block and below, yes, but he also ensures the seven-footer sees more one-on-one matchups.
Double-teams won't be as easy to send toward Gasol when there isn't a fellow tenant squatting inside of nine feet.
I draw your attention to this:
Williams has the ball in the deep corner, and there's all this space in the post. Amar'e Stoudemire isn't taking advantage of it, allowing Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Howard to lock him up, but the operating room is there.
It's here too:
One can only assume the Lakers would have Gasol where the Knicks have that gaping hole. Aside from Stoudemire and, for part of the season, Carmelo Anthony, New York didn't have an interior scorer in 2010-11.
All that space was going unused at times. The Lakers, meanwhile, could've fit two Gasols down there, though they wouldn't want to, obviously. That would defeat the purpose of this exercise.
Finally, there's this:
With the Knicks spreading the floor, Timofey Mozgov is left to his own devices down low against Robin Lopez. They don't run the ball through him because, well, he's Timofey Mozgov, but the space is there once again.
Look at the logjam Los Angeles was dealing with much of the time last year:
Wait, there's more:
And more still:
The addition of Williams impacts the Lakers' offense the same way it did New York's two years ago. D'Antoni has another shooter and can now afford Gasol more offensive freedom in the post.
Los Angeles becomes even more complicated to guard in these situations because defenses are dealing with Gasol, not Ronny Turiaf or Mozgov half the time. When they send two defenders his way, they won't be leaving an aging Chauncey Billups or mercurial Landry Fields open, either. They'll be neglecting Kobe, Nash, Young and Williams.
Additional space also makes for easier access to the rim for ball-handlers and more effective pick-and-rolls, D'Antoni's bread and butter. So while Williams' arrival doesn't change everything, it changes a lot.
Enough to give the Lakers an offensive advantage over many of their opponents, true to Mike D'Antoni's style.