Derrick Williams impressing after slow rookie year

  • Article by: JON KRAWCZYNSKI
  • Associated Press
  • October 4, 2012 - 7:56 AM

MANKATO, Minn. - Derrick Williams spent most of his rookie season in Minnesota trying to find his way.

With a shortened training camp, precious little practice time once the season began and up to five games a week, it was perhaps the most challenging season ever for a rookie. The No. 2 overall draft choice had to do a lot of searching — for the right times to be aggressive in Rick Adelman's offense, for the correct reads on defense when the ball rotated quickly, for consistent playing time to get into a rhythm on both ends.

The Timberwolves' veteran coaching staff, meanwhile, kept waiting for Williams to kick it into gear. Early in his second training camp, Williams is giving them what they want.

"He just floated last year," Adelman said. "You'd see it once in a while. Today he made hard cuts and he was aggressive going to the basket. He just played with more authority and he played harder. That's the difference. You've got to play hard in this league."

Williams averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 21 minutes a game last season, underwhelming numbers for a player many dubbed as the most NBA-ready prospect of the 2011 draft. On one occasion last season, Williams said he felt like a "caged lion" while seeing his playing time go up and down.

Adelman didn't quite see it that way.

"You can't cruise or it's not going to work," Adelman said.

On the first day of training camp, Williams' intensity and commitment on both ends stood out perhaps more than any other development on a team with only five players on the roster from a year ago.

"I'd venture to say he had his best day that he's had here," assistant coach Bill Bayno said after Day 1. "His focus was there. All the things we had to stay on him about last year, we really didn't have to get on him. He did the little things, stayed in his stance. He had that look in his eye of, `I'm not just here to play basketball, I'm here to compete and get stuff done.'"

Not just in his eye, but with his body as well. The Timberwolves challenged Williams when last season ended to prove to them that he was committed to his craft. He responded by throwing himself into grueling workouts, changing his diet to get leaner and working on his agility to better prepare himself to handle more minutes at small forward this season.

He practiced against point guards in one-on-one drills, ran hills at the Manhattan Beach sand dunes in California and had surgery to fix a deviated septum to help him breathe better when his heart rate jumps. He dropped about 10 pounds, but more importantly trimmed his body fat from 12.5 percent to 7.3 percent.

"Way better shape. It's like night and day," Williams said. "I'm not getting as tired. It's the first day. But I'm feeling good about myself and what I did this summer. Hopefully it translates."

Frankly, it's going to have to. With Adelman not sold on Williams as a building block, the Timberwolves brought in veterans Andrei Kirilenko, Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger — three players who play Williams' forward positions — as well as guard Brandon Roy, who could slide to small forward in some lineups. If Williams thought his playing time was sporadic last season, it could be even more inconsistent if he doesn't show that he's ready to make major improvements.

"He sees who he's competing against," said Bayno, who spent time working Williams out in California this summer. "He sees Kirilenko and Brandon Roy and Chase and realizes that he better bring it. A lot of it is maturity. We talked almost every day last year about the mental aspect, the focus. Getting that killer attitude."

Williams winces when he hears people call his first season disappointing. He certainly had his moments — 27 points in a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 22 points, 10 boards while filling in for an injured Kevin Love in the starting lineup on March 9, 27 points and eight boards at Denver on April 11. And he is also quick to point out that he's the only member of the team to play in all 66 games during the demanding, lockout-shortened season.

He simply saw last year as a learning season and feels better prepared to show his true potential this season.

Even after just one practice, Adelman seems to be quickly warming to a player he openly wondered about last year.

"You can talk all you want, but until you see somebody go out on the floor and actually attempt to do things, then you can talk more," Adelman said. "We talked for four months last year and it was always an inconsistent effort. But today he was terrific. If he keeps doing that, he has a chance to be a good player."


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