Wizards

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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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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