MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — His rookie season drawing to a close, Derrick Williams sat in front of his locker after a loss to the Golden State Warriors, a glazed look in his eye as he got dressed.
The No. 2 overall draft pick played less than 12 minutes that night for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he still looked so tired. The games kept coming and coming in this lockout-shortened season, offering Williams little time to catch his breath and even less practice time to work on his game.
There were plenty of flashes of the talent that made him a star at Arizona, the knack for scoring around the basket, the versatility to play on the perimeter. But there were also too many nights when Williams just didn’t have it, where you could see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to remember his defensive assignments or pick his spots to assert himself on offense.
So Williams plunges into his first summer as a professional determined to follow in Kevin Love’s footsteps as a high lottery pick who improved by leaps and bounds thanks to exhaustive offseason workouts.
“I think a lot of people have the confidence in me to get a lot better,” Williams said. “My potential is I could be a pretty good player. This offseason is pretty big for me.”
Like every other rookie in the league, Williams’ development suffered right from the start because of a bitter labor dispute that prevented teams from working with their players all offseason. Once the union and ownership agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement, there was a mad rush to get the season started, resulting in an abbreviated training camp and preseason that made it difficult for the youngsters to prepare for making the jump from college to the pros.
Coaches initially planned to play Williams at small forward alongside Love. But it was ultimately decided that asking him to learn a new position and a new system would be too much, so he started the season as the backup power forward.
Love quickly emerged as a top-flight player who logged nearly 40 minutes a night, leaving the playing time for Williams a little harder to come by. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, routinely finding himself on the bench for long stretches because coach Rick Adelman was displeased with his performance on the defensive end.
The sporadic playing time proved to be a difficult adjustment for Williams, who was the focal point at Arizona. He tweeted at one point that he felt like “a caged lion,” but also was the lone Timberwolves player to play in all 66 games.
“He’s had his moments but I think the biggest thing is we’d like to see him be much more consistent,” Adelman said. “He’s like a lot of rookies, he just has to improve there. Not having the summer to see him when the season started probably had something to do with it. This summer is going to be a big one for him.”
There were plenty of games, though, where Williams showed his true potential. He scored 27 points and hit all four 3-pointers in a victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Feb. 28. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to the Lakers on March 9 and 27 points and eight boards to help rally the Timberwolves from a huge deficit in a narrow loss at Denver on April 11.
Fortunately for the Wolves, Love is providing a blueprint for Williams to follow. Love played just 25 minutes a game as a rookie while stuck behind veteran big man Al Jefferson, averaging 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Love hired a chef and went through excruciating summer workouts to reshape his doughy physique. He reported for his fourth training camp 25 pounds lighter than he was last season, and it helped him have the best season of his career.
Now it’s up to Williams to follow suit. He probably needs to drop at least 15 pounds if he wants to be quick enough to guard small forwards and earn starting minutes next to Love, who isn’t going anywhere.
“I think K-Love was probably in my spot when he first got here as a rookie, being a high draft pick and Al Jefferson was here,” Williams said. “He’s really made big strides. Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps and help him out.”
Williams has shown a strong work ethic this season, often being one of the first players on the floor for pregame workouts and one of the last off the floor after practices. He’ll need that if he hopes to survive a grueling routine similar to what Love goes through.
“I just hope he can last through a week of what I do,” Love said. “It’s a complete command. You really have to stay in one place for the entire summer. If he’s willing to do that, I think he’ll make a big bump in his career.”
Williams will be in his hometown of Los Angeles, working out with his trainer, fellow Wolves rookie Malcolm Lee and Wolves assistant coach Bill Bayno.
He wants to come back in October lighter, quicker and ready to play small forward — on both ends of the court.
“Hopefully I get a chance to do that next season because I definitely want to challenge myself out there on the court,” Williams said. “That’s the only way you can do it, by challenging yourself and getting better.”
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