Capitals

Wolves' Williams trying not to be next Terrible 2

Wolves' Williams trying not to be next Terrible 2

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Darko Milicic. Hasheem Thabeet. Stromile Swift. Sam Bowie.

Derrick Williams wants no part of that club, one that has grown increasingly crowded since the turn of the century. They're all players who have been chosen second overall in the NBA draft, a rarefied spot that brings the expectation of franchise-altering impact.

They've also all been disappointments.

Others - Marvin Williams, Keith Van Horn - have been underwhelming. Some - Len Bias, Jay Williams - have been tragedies and at least one more - Michael Beasley - has been downright maddening. Since 2000, only two - Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge - have become legitimate stars.

The Minnesota Timberwolves chose Derrick Williams No. 2 before last season. In December, the coaching staff told him he had a choice to make.

He could throw himself into extra work with assistant Shawn Respert and the rest of the staff to try and establish himself in the NBA. Or he could keep doing what he was doing and join that long list of ``Terrible Twos'' who never panned out in this league.

``I don't want to say any names, but there have been a lot who haven't worked out,'' Williams said. ``A couple have sky-rocketed and a couple have been pretty decent. My whole life I never wanted to be a decent player.''

The Wolves assigned Respert to work with Williams every day after practice, both in the film room and on the court. But the most important challenge for Respert was reaching Williams on an emotional level to spur the kind of growth in his mental toughness that the team saw as the primary problem getting in the way of his development.

``Even watching him in timeouts, he was so frustrated, like a young man who was insecure about `Is this where he is supposed to be?''' Respert said. ``I saw him get so frustrated where he started to tear up and his eyes started to water because he has no answer to fix this problem that he has.''

Deemed by many scouts as the most NBA-ready player in the draft, Williams averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 21 minutes per game as a rookie. Rick Adelman quickly grew disenchanted with his tendency to ``float'' and not give consistent effort, and the coach rarely gave the 20-year-old the consistent minutes he felt he needed to get into the flow of a game and be effective.

``My whole life I've been that guy who has been counted on the whole time, whatever team I've been on, I've been the guy,'' Williams said. ``It's been a little tough.''

He reported to training camp this season slimmed down and ready to play more small forward. But Adelman quickly warmed to hard-nosed veterans Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham. Even with Kevin Love out with a hand injury, Williams played 30 minutes in a game only twice in the first month. Love returned, and Williams didn't see the floor in four games of a nine-game stretch, which prompted the prodding to work with Respert.

So Williams took the challenge, staying late after practice and always being among the first players on the court for pregame routines. He's shown flashes along the way, including 23 points, seven rebounds and four blocks against Golden State, and 18 points and 11 boards against Washington.

The coaches want that to be more of the norm and not just a surprising surge once every few weeks.

``The young man, you can tell there's so much upside,'' Respert said. ``This is why the scouts looked at him as a No. 2 pick.

``Also, he can easily be historically a lot of the No. 2s that have come in the league if he's not careful. If he doesn't stay sharp and work like he's been working, he can easily fall back into the mix of a guy that struggles in this league. He doesn't have a true identity right now. We're working on what it is that he can contribute every single night to help a team win.''

He also picked up five fouls in 13 minutes of a loss to the Clippers on Wednesday night, struggling against the bigger, more physical team.

``Derrick's such a nice kid,'' assistant Bill Bayno said. ``We've been telling him you've got to leave that nice kid in the locker room. When you step on the court, you've got to be nasty and mean and tougher.''

What Adelman has to be reminded of occasionally is that Williams is just 21 years old. It will take patience, and a willingness to let him play through some mistakes.

``I think now for him we can take the training wheels off a little bit and see how he can balance himself,'' Respert said. ``He's going to fall off his bike still. He's going to have some scars. I told him that scars are OK. They heal. You don't want wounds to go untreated.

``There's something wrong with your game. We see it. And we're going to try and fix it. If we left it alone, there would be a problem. Don't be upset because people nitpick. Run harder, jump, box out. That's all of our games. We all had to go through that process.''

If anyone knows what Williams is going through, it's Respert. After a standout career at Michigan State, Respert was selected eighth overall in 1995, but health issues contributed to a career that never took off. Being able to relate to Williams seems to have helped Respert reach him on a different level.

``The whole mental part, he's right about that,'' Williams said. ``Just being low and last year not knowing what to expect, it was tough. Just working with him after practice and keeping my confidence up, he's been right there with me since then.''

Williams is leaning on veterans such as Brandon Roy and Kirilenko for guidance, as well, and they have served it to him straight.

``He's just in his second year and he has a long career ahead of him,'' said Roy. ``I think he's at the point where he has to start focusing a little bit more out there on the court and paying attention to the details.''

Williams' name has come up in trade rumors, but he is determined to make things work in Minnesota. As frustrated as he's been, he's never requested a trade. He's going to work now, and that's why Respert has such high hopes for him.

``The biggest improvement I've seen is I like the fact that he's had some ownership now in his own development,'' Respert said. ``We don't have to go searching for him like we used to. Now I see him searching for us.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

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USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Bruins, Sharks force Game 7

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Bruins, Sharks force Game 7

With the first round starting to come to a close, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights had a chance to advance to the second round Sunday, while the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks needed a win to hang on. It was both teams facing elimination that were able to come out on top.

Here's how Sunday's Game 6 matchups stacked up.

Bruins stave off elimination with 4-2 win

After Friday's Game 5 victory, it looked like the Toronto Maple Leafs may possibly overcome their previous woes against Boston. However, with their backs against the wall, the Bruins were able to come back and force yet another Game 7 between these rivals.

Morgan Reilly was able to put a one-timer past Tuukka Rask to put the Maple Leafs up 1-0 early, but two minutes later, Brad Marchand struck on the power play to even the score. Soonafter, Torey Krug fired home a rebound on another power-play opportunity to put Boston up 2-1 heading into the second, where Jake DeBrusk extended the lead by two.

Auston Matthews scored his fifth of the playoffs to cut the lead to one, and he now has points in four straight games through this series. The Maple Leafs continued their comeback bid as the final frame died down, but Brad Marchand was able to fight past defenders and secure the win with an empty netter.

Rask finished with 22 saves, and Frederik Anderson stopped 38 of 41 shots. The Bruins and Maple Leafs will meet in yet another Game 7 Tuesday, as has been the case between the two teams in the playoffs over the years.

Sharks stun Golden Knights in 2-1 OT win

As if the intensity of the playoffs alone wasn't enough, Sunday's thriller between the Sharks and Golden Knights put fans all over the NHL at the edge of their seats. The score was deadlocked for five periods before the Sharks finally trimphed to see another tilt with Vegas.

The game was scoreless until the final nine seconds of the first period, where Logan Couture beat Fleury with a quick shot to make it 1-0. Jonathan Marchessault struck in the second period to tie things up at one. Both Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury were having strong performances that kept the game even, and the score would last to force double overtime.

Despite 59 shots on goal and a power-play chance in double overtime, Marc-Edouard Vlasic would find Tomas Hertl open on the PK, and he was able to carry the puck up ice and score shorthanded to win the game for San Jose.

Jones was easily the first star of the night with 58 saves, while Fleury finished with 27 saves on 29 shots. As Hertl promised, the Sharks will head to Vegas for a decisive Game 7 Tuesday.