MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Derrick Williams walked off the bus and strolled into Target Center toward the entrance to the visiting locker room.
As he put his hand on the door knob and started to open it, he did a double-take to make sure he was headed to the right place. It’s hard to blame Williams for his tentativeness since he had spent the first two years of his career walking into the home locker room in this building.
Williams made his return to Minnesota on Wednesday night, a month and a half after the Timberwolves traded the former No. 2 overall pick to the Sacramento Kings for Luc Mbah a Moute. In that short time, Williams said it has already become crystal clear that he is a much better fit with the Kings than he was with the Wolves.
“I think it fits my style of play a little bit more,” Williams said before Sacramento faced Minnesota. “I just feel a little bit more free out there on the court, learning through mistakes. With a young player like myself, as well as a first-year head coach, you’re going to have some ups and downs on both sides. We’re all learning together.”
Williams was the highest draft pick in franchise history when the Wolves chose him in 2011. But coach Rick Adelman determined that he was better at power forward than small forward, which means he spent most of his time here stuck behind All-Star Kevin Love.
Playing on a team that began this year with playoff expectations, Williams found consistent playing time hard to come by. Adelman gave the bulk of the minutes to Love and veteran Dante Cunningham, leaving Williams frustrated at the end of the bench on many nights. So, Timberwolves President Flip Saunders traded him to Sacramento for Mbah a Moute to add some defensive depth to a team full of scorers.
“Sometimes you’re not in the right spot,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “There’s nothing you can do. He was working hard. He put a lot of time. I think he’s going to be good in this league.”
Williams erupted for 31 points in his fifth game with the Kings, but he was pushed to the bench when the team acquired Rudy Gay from Toronto and has been adjusting ever since.
“We want him to use his athleticism, show some toughness and defend at a high level,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “When Rudy came in, he kind of wasn’t sure how to fit in. But in the last four games Derrick’s been great for us. When we can defend and Derrick can get out in transition and play to his athleticism, he becomes a much better player. He’s been terrific for us and we’re happy to have him.”
Williams averaged 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and shot 54 percent in those four games, which included a three-game winning streak that ended in Indiana on Tuesday night. Most importantly for him, he’s averaging almost 25 minutes a game and feels like he’s being allowed to play through mistakes now, unlike in Minnesota.
“It was a learning experience, whether it was good or bad,” Williams said of his time in Minnesota. “There were a lot of ups and downs, but you learn from it. They’re all veteran coaches on that side and we have all new coaches on this side. It’s just a different fit and a different feel as well. Different philosophies in the coaching style.”
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