Sitting right in front of the point-guard-devoid Hawks was a point guard for the ages. An evolutionary or modern Isaiah Thomas, as Bill Simmons would call him. Chris Paul was quite simply the best player in the draft, and Deron Williams wasn't far behind. Yet neither of those two future perennial All-Stars was picked first or second in the draft.
The Milwaukee Bucks chose to go with the Australian big man out of Utah, Andrew Bogut (not a bad move; he's one of the best centers in the league). The Hawks, as most of us know all too well, took Williams, the wonder freshman out of UNC. He was an athletic swingman with long arms, oozing with potential, but the fact remained that Paul was the best player in the draft, and he wanted to go to Atlanta.
It's a classic case of potential over substance, and that potential never living up to the great substance that was once at Atlanta's fingertips. While Williams will never live up to the two names that were called after him in the 2005 NBA Draft, he can at least start making amends. This will be the year when that happens.
Williams didn't fare terribly his first few years. He saw a steady increase in his points per game before maxing out at 14.8 in the 2007-2008 season. After that, he suffered a back injury that has haunted him since.
That may have been the last time we've seen Williams truly walk upright. Since then all we've seen is a humped over, duck-walking bust of a second overall draft pick. All too often he would disappear in games, and the length that once made him such a promising defender vanished. He was no longer the hope of the Hawks' future; he was a smeared failure of the past.
Paul and Deron Williams each turned into bona-fide superstar point guards, a position that the Hawks needed help at terribly. While Paul and Deron Williams represented what the Hawks could have been, Williams was the reality of what they were now stuck with: a hunched over, funny walking small forward who couldn't show his face in big moments.
It reached its worst over last season's playoffs. Williams became a complete non-factor. Disappearing for random stretches is understandable, but inexcusable. What happened in the postseason was not understandable, and it was inexcusable as well. He was a no-show. He wasn't active, he was in zone-out mode for the entire playoffs.
His contributions were scarce, and the fans in Atlanta grumbled as Paul put on an all-time performance against the Lakers, a losing effort, but one enough to make Atlanta jealous of the game changing point guard.
After a back surgery that made Hawks fans think they'd see a used-up, under-the-tools veteran emerge, Williams is looking better than ever.
His mini-fro helps his new image, as does the fact he actually seems an inch taller. His vertical is back to what it was, and he is feeling better than ever.
Theres reason to be cautiously optimistic for Williams as he's seemingly climbing from the hole that had once all but engulfed him as a bust.
In fact, I'm not the only one to notice the new and improved Williams. Take it from teammate Jeff Teague, as quoted in Michael Cunningham's AJC blog:
Today at Philips Jeff Teague pulled up for a 3-pointer but Marvin Williams reached up and got a piece of the ball as it left Teague’s hand.
As Teague ran to collect the ball, he told Marvin: “I’m not used to you being that tall.”
Williams is now moving more fluidly and in the best condition he's been in since probably the 2007-2008 season. This time, hear it from Williams himself in a snippet from an interview with the official website of the Atlanta Hawks:
I feel 10 times better. Just to be able to run and jump, be pain free. I know tonight when I go to sleep I won't wake up sore tomorrow. So, I feel a lot better.
Williams will never exceed or meet the expectations that accompanied his arrival, but he seems to finally be moving back toward the upward trend we saw in his first few years. His mid-range shot has always been solid, and a developing three-point shot accompanied with his newly found fluidity and speed should be a dangerous combo. His renewed athleticism will certainly help out defensively, and he seems much more suitable to be able to play for the long haul.
No one accepts excuses, but Williams had a legitimate one. A back injury hampered his progress throughout his last few seasons. He couldn't even walk upright, and by many, including myself, he was given the short end of the stick.
With Williams walking tall again, the Hawks just might receive the postseason boost they've been searching for for three years as they search for their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance in Atlanta.