The Value of Marvin Williams

Photo: Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty Images

In 2005, Marvin Williams was on top of the basketball world, coming off of a solid season for the legendary North Carolina Tar Heels to win ACC Rookie of the Year honors. With a pretty jumper, high energy and a basketball IQ off the charts, he was projected to be taken top five in the NBA draft.

As we know, by the time the New Orleans Hornets and Utah Jazz’s three and four picks of Chris Paul and Deron Williams rolled around, Marvin was already long gone to the Atlanta Hawks with the second pick. 15,000 NBA minutes later he’d be traded to the Utah Jazz where he’s started 49 of the 51 games he’s played in the 2012-13 season.

Is Marvin Williams a bust as a two pick? That depends on how one defines “bust.” He’s certainly no Kevin Durant, but he’s no Sam Bowie or Darko Milicic either. Marvin has carved out a nice NBA career as a role player who has value, even if that value has varied by role and season.

He has a player option for the 2013-14 season that he will almost certainly pick up, so what is Marvin Williams’ value to the Utah Jazz?  What role does he excel at within the Jazz system?

Called a defensive gambler by NBA scouts coming out of college, Marvin has developed into maybe the most underrated wing defender in the league. Many fans are calling for DeMarre Carroll to take Marvin’s place in the rotation, saying Carroll is every bit the defender Williams is, plus offense. But don’t mistake frenetic energy and a few flashy transition steals for fundamentally good defense — Carroll is more of a gambler on defense, like Marvin used to be, as we saw several times against Paul Pierce late in the recent game versus the Boston Celtics.

That’s not to say Carroll isn’t a good defender — he is. But Marvin is a lock-down D-man, relative;y speaking, in an era of NBA rules that values wing offense highly, thanks to Michael Jordan and “no-hands rules” that were designed to up offensive production about a decade ago in the midst of a game that had become favorable to plodding big men in the post, culminating in 2004.

Marvin’s offense has been the worst of his career per 36 minutes . To really see what coaches see, we have to isolate what Williams has done on defense this season by game and by match-up.  This is made possible by and

Adjusted for minutes played against the opposition, in 25.4 minutes per game this season, through 50 games, Marvin Williams has held his man to an average 3.0 points per game less than their season average. That might not sound like much, until you consider that it would be closer to 5.0 points less in 36 minutes per game. Against the Durants, LeBrons, Kobes, and Paul Pierces of the NBA.

Much of what Marvin Williams does is lost to the casual fan — our eyes tend to follow the ball and the flashy play. What Williams does doesn’t show up in box scores, such as denying the ball to Kevin Durant by smothering him for 12 straight minutes, holding him to 1-2 shooting and two points, key to a defensive plan predicated on forcing key opposing players away from their preferred spots and shots.

Marvin Williams’ scouting report from college stated that he needed to add pounds, and could defend the power forward as well as small forward spot, but that’s not who he turned out to be. Rather Marvin turned out to be a wing-D specialist in the NBA, never adding those pounds, and that’s just fine — some guys were never meant to be a [insert position] player in the first place.

As the scouting report stated then, Williams does still struggle when inserted into certain situations where he’s required to take on bigger, athletic “tweeners.” It’s simply not his strength. But by and large, used properly, Williams is a nightmare for opposing players who fancy an offensive outing on a given night versus the Jazz.

Through 50 games played this season, only seven players have posted an above average evening offensively on Marvin Williams, adjusted for minutes played, versus Marvin in the starting lineup, or 20 minutes played off the bench (two games).

  • Jared Dudley, Phoenix Suns: +9.3 (three games). My first thought was that Dudley must have bombing from range, but it turns out to just be an outlier, a bad match-up for whatever unexplained reason — Dudley went 5-11 from three in three games, total
  • Mickael Pietrus, Toronto Raptors: +7.4 (one game). Everyone has a bad night once in a while, but the Raptors will be heard from again here
  • Dominic McGuire/ Linas Kleiza, Toronto Raptors, + 3.9/+3.5 (one game). No explanation for McGuire, but we’re more than familiar with Kleiza as a Jazz Killer, and he used to play the power forward regularly for the Denver Nuggets, so he knows how to bang in the post. Clearly, Dwane Casey does something to neutralize Marvin Williams on defense that no one else does
  • Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets: +2.2 (one game): It’s one game. And one bucket difference. Crash Wallace is just below elite level as a player in the NBA, a perennial, borderline All-Star. Stop for a moment and consider all the top-tier wing players Marvin has to defend. I guarantee if Williams played him three or more times in a season, Wallace would come out on the short end of this stick
  • Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets: +1.1 (three games): Faried is one of those larger freaks of athletic nature at a tweener spot that Marvin struggles with, and posted a +3.2 in two games on him. However, Marvin managed to hold the Manimal to an impressive -2.3 in the other meeting, head-to-head, for the overall solid +/- rating despite Marv’s struggles with this body-type player
  • Caron Butler, Los Angeles Clippers: +0.4 (two games). Williams didn’t play in two of the meetings with the Clippers, and only 14 minutes in the final meeting, a game in which Butler was unusually hot, dropping 21 points on the Jazz in the season sweep finale
Photo: Jeff Gross Getty Images Sport

Photo: Jeff Gross Getty Images

Some head-to-head match-up highlights:

  • In 60 minutes head-to-head with LeBron James, Marvin Williams held James to 42 total points in two games, -12.5 points off of his average
  • In 22 minutes head-to-head with Kevin Durant, Marvin Williams held Durant to 20 points in their one meeting so far, -9.2 points off of his average
  • In 59 minutes head-to-head with Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams held Batum to 17 total points in two games, -13.3 points off of his average
  • In 51 minutes head-to-head with Paul Pierce, Marvin Williams held Pierce to 32 total points in two games, -4.9 points off of his average
  • In 53 minutes head-to-head with Rudy Gay, Marvin Williams held Gay to 18 total points in two games, -22.1 points off of his average
  • In 46 minutes head-to-head with Shawn Marion, Marvin Williams held Marion to two total points in two games, -21.0 off of his season average

Obviously, due to screens and switches, etc. players don’t always go “head-to-head” every single possession, but in watching countless hours of film in compiling these numbers I feel like they’re as close as one can come to accurately measuring what has happened in defensive assignments.

In the course of this research, I was surprised to find Corbin had put Williams on Metta World Peace rather than Kobe Bryant for the bulk of his minutes played against the Lakers, since Peace is the body type Marvin tends to have trouble with defensively. Williams did manage to hold Peace to a total 35 points in the three meetings for a combined -3.7 off of his average on the season, and hey, who’s complaining when Utah won this critical season series 2-1.

Marvin Williams has by and large been a disappointment in his first season as a Jazzman, but it might simply be that he isn’t being used properly to take full advantage of his skill set. Clearly, Williams has a great value as a wing defender, but he’s rarely used in fourth quarters.

After the first month of the season, Ty Corbin stopped using Williams in the final period of games. Since November 26, 2012 through March 1, 2013, a span of 38 games, Marvin Williams has played about two minutes per game in the fourth quarter, not playing at all in 27 of them. Williams had done excellent job on Paul Pierce in the recent overtime heart-breaker to the Celtics through three quarters when Corbin decided to close the game with DeMarre Carroll. Williams had held Pierce to 11 points through three quarters in 26 minutes. In the fourth quarter and overtime Carroll’s gambling defense allowed Pierce to score 13 points in 13 minutes. What most fans will remember is only the final possession of regulation when Carroll crawled up into Pierce’s jersey to deny a game-winner.

On offense, used as a spot-up shooter, 37.4% of the time, by far the most-used offensive situation for him, Williams scores 0.9 points per possession on a mere 34% shooting. Williams’ strength as an offensive player is within the movement of the flex offense on cuts where he can use his length and athleticism to get to the rim for easy buckets, as we saw in the same game versus Boston recently. But he’s used on cuts only 6.6% of his time on the floor, where he scores an outstanding 1.55 points per possession.

Used in this manner on offense, Williams would also get to the free throw line more often, where he’s an 80% career maker. For his career, Marvin averages 3.4 free throw attempts per game, but as a Jazzman he’s averaging a career low 1.7 free throw attempts per game.

The way Marvin Williams has been used on offense this year has resulted in misleading plus-minus statistics, making it seem as if he’s a worse player than he really is. Williams has tremendous value as a defender, and simply may not be being used correctly on offense, causing a glance to give the wrong overall impression of his value as a player.

Since he will almost certainly pick up his player option to stay with the Jazz next season, let’s hope we find better ways to get the most out Marvin Williams in the run to finish this season and next.

Posted in Featured Writers
  • Andrew Greenhalgh

    Nice to see a positive article like this. Its so easy for us as fans to get frustrated with guys when we see them put up zeros in the points column. Thanks for putting this together, it’s a good read.