MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The minutes have come and gone for Derrick Williams this season. Truthfully, they’ve been mostly gone for almost a month now.
The former No. 2 overall draft pick doesn’t pout or whine behind the scenes. He just keeps working in hopes that his chance will come with the Minnesota Timberwolves sooner rather than later.
“Just try to keep working,” Williams said on Monday after practice. “Just because you’re not playing, you can’t stop working. Just pushing myself a little harder.”
The highest draft choice in franchise history has not played in four of the last nine games for the Wolves, with coach Rick Adelman preferring the veteran Dante Cunningham as the primary backup to All-Star Kevin Love at power forward. That hasn’t prompted him to demand a trade or grouse publicly about his situation.
He was the only player on the team to play in all 66 games of the lockout-shortened season last year, but his inconsistent performances didn’t sit well with coach Rick Adelman. Williams went to work in the offseason, slimming down and reshaping his body in hopes of moving from power forward, where Love gets most of the minutes, to small forward.
But the team signed Andrei Kirilenko in the offseason to be the starting small forward, and Williams’ playing time has suffered for it. He was in the starting lineup on opening night and for much of the first month of the season while Love recovered from a broken right hand. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a loss at Golden State on Nov. 16, but hasn’t played more than 16 minutes in a game since.
Not coincidentally, that is the last game Love missed because of his injury. Adelman was blunt when Love returned that some players were going to see their minutes go down. So far, that player has been Williams.
And so far, Williams is taking it in stride.
“I’m a patient player,” he said. “I just have to do with what I have. If I get 10 minutes, I get 10 minutes and I just try and do what I can with that.”
Adelman has long had a reputation for favoring veterans over young players, and it’s clear that Cunningham’s steady play and hard-nosed defense has won the coach over early this season. Williams started this season slow offensively, struggling to knock down shots at a consistent rate. But he showed flashes of much-improved defense against some of the better offensive power forwards in the league, including Indiana’s David West and Chicago’s Carlos Boozer. He also helped shutdown Orlando’s Glen Davis, who had entered their third game of the season with some gaudy statistics.
Coaches are pushing him to be more aggressive on both ends of the court — to put up a bigger fight on pick-and-roll defense and not settle for jumpers on offense. So, as he has since he arrived in Minnesota last summer, Williams has consistently been one of the last players to leave the practice court every day.
“I’m not the coach. I don’t control the minutes,” said Williams, who is averaging 9.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. “I just control whatever I can control. Show up in practice, keep working hard, staying after practice and lift weights, things like that. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
He said he can’t blame Adelman for leaning more on Love and Kirilenko in the frontcourt. He just hopes to be a bigger part of the game plan, eventually, and does think there is room in Minnesota for everyone.
“They’re both good players. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good player or anything like that,” Williams said. “It’s coach’s decision whether he plays me or not, whether he plays anybody. I try not to look at it like that. With Kevin and AK back, it makes our team a little bit better. I’m not going to complain about who is going to play and who is not going to play.”
And despite his name again surfacing in trade rumors surrounding Pau Gasol last week, Williams made it clear Monday he has not requested to be moved.
Team president David Kahn said last week he wanted to wait until point guard Ricky Rubio returned from a torn ACL before making any major personnel decisions. It is possible that the slick-passing Rubio could give Williams a boost as well. The two seemed to click well, especially on alley-oops, last season.
Adelman said on Monday there is still not a definitive timetable for Rubio’s return. He will practice with the team again on Tuesday, and Adelman seemed hesitant about the possibility of him playing against Denver on Wednesday.
“I think he could go out and play some right now, but again, is that the smart thing to do?” Adelman said.
They have a stretch of four games in five nights starting on Friday at New Orleans, which may make the home game on Saturday against Dallas a more realistic possibility.
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