MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Derrick Williams spent two full seasons and 16 games of this year trying to find a place for himself with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He tried to do it at power forward, tried to do it at small forward. And as the games wore on this season, and as his minutes shrank to almost zero while he was stuck behind Kevin Love, Williams knew something had to give. If the former No. 2 overall pick was going to make something of himself in the NBA and fulfill the promise he once had, he was going to have to do it somewhere else.
“There were times where I was like, ‘I’m definitely not going to play tonight,'” Williams told The Associated Press in a phone interview on Wednesday, one day after the Wolves traded him to Sacramento. “And K-Love would have 25 (points) and 15 (rebounds). Sometimes you have to come to grips with yourself and realize that.
“That’s the reason why you never really heard any bad things or talks about me being bad in the locker room or being vocal about it. Sometimes you just have to come to grips with yourself and admit that the other person is better than you and you can learn from that guy.”
Williams practiced with the Kings, who sent defensive specialist Luc Mbah a Moute to the Wolves in exchange on Wednesday and immediately felt more at home with a coach in Mike Malone and a rebuilding franchise that has the patience to let the 22-year-old Williams grow on the court.
Williams was playing fewer than 15 minutes a game this season for the Wolves and was averaging just 4.9 points and 2.4 rebounds and spent four games watching from the bench. After trying to play him at small forward, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman concluded that Williams was best suited for power forward.
Sacramento needs frontcourt scoring and Malone told Williams on his first day that he’s going to get plenty of opportunities to do it.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with me playing 30-35 minutes, but just knowing that I’m not going to get taken out for mistakes,” Williams said. “They want me to play through them. I make a mistake, (Malone) wants me to get it back on defense, make it up with a blocked shot, pick it up with a steal. Little things like that. I think it just helps any young player’s confidence.”
Adelman disputed the notion that Williams was in the coach’s dog house — “I haven’t had a dog for a long time,” he cracked.
What it came down to was Williams played the same position as the team’s best player.
“He’s going to be a good player in this league, but I think he’s a power forward. Now he may prove me wrong and I wish him all the best,” Adelman said. “Right now we have a pretty good power forward.
“I think it’s just circumstances and sometimes young guys get sucked into circumstances. He’s going to have an opportunity to play and see what he can do. It’s right there for him. I wish him the best. It was just something that just never seemed to click.”
Adelman would get frustrated when he would see Williams “float” on both ends. Williams would get frustrated by not being allowed to get into the flow of the game while playing such sporadic minutes. With a bench that was struggling mightily on a team built to make a playoff run in the tough Western Conference, the Wolves needed immediate help.
“I think my style of play and coach’s system just didn’t really match up,” he said. “And the times I really tried to showcase what I could do, it made it seem like I was holding the ball too much.
“At some points in the offense I was the fifth option, and that just comes with the offense. I’ve never been a fifth option before. It was kind of tough trying to make plays and overdoing it sometimes.”
Williams said he’s not bitter. He said he’s “100 times better” than he was in college thanks to Adelman, Love and the rest of the Wolves.
“It was just his style of play. I really learned from it,” he said. “I learned a lot just from sitting back and watching. I never sat back and watched the game before. I was always out there playing, whether it was through mistakes, whether I was playing good or bad. I was going to play. And I think it really helped me a lot, just learning from the game.”
When Williams was drafted in 2011 out of Arizona, he was so proud to be the No. 2 overall pick. When fans and league observers grew restless after an underwhelming start to his career, it became a weight around his neck.
After only one day in Sacramento, he already feels as if the weight has been lifted.
“I think it’s just a fresh start for me,” he said. “I think a lot of people know maybe this could be a better spot, a better fit for me in my career. I think we tried everything to make it work. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.”
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