The Los Angeles Lakers may have had one of the biggest feel-good stories of the season in Andre Ingram, but their neighbor down the Staples Center hall, the Los Angeles Clippers, had one of their own as well.
For C.J. Williams, whose professional basketball career includes stops in Greece, Italy, France and the NBA’s G-League, this season has been a dream come true. It began in Clippers training camp, but he had been down that road before. He was in camp with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2016-17 season but was one of their final preseason roster cuts.
This season, however, Williams managed to stick around. He was the recipient of one of the NBA’s new two-way contracts, allowing him to split time between the Clippers and their G-League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers. While he was officially an NBA player, he didn’t imagine that he’d find success in the league right away.
“The first thing was just getting the two-way opportunity. I didn’t expect to play as much as I did, but it was awesome,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great experience. I’m happy to get my rookie season out the way, now I understand the game a little better. I know what I have to work on this summer. Next season I hope to come in a better player and then just keep learning, be a sponge and learn from all my teammates.”
Williams was inactive for 12 of the first 14 games of the season, and he only saw a total of 27 seconds of playing time in the two games he did get in to. And that was when the injuries hit. The Clippers lost starting point guard Patrick Beverly for the rest of the season. Backup point guard Milos Teodosic was in and out of the lineup with a foot injury. Williams was called into action immediately.
During a 26-game stretch from Nov. 18 to Jan. 10, Williams became a fixture in the Clippers’ rotation. That stretch included 12 starts in which he put up 9.1 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting from the field. In perhaps his best game of the season on Jan. 8 against the Atlanta Hawks, Williams put up 15 points, three rebounds, two assists, four steals, two blocked shots and the game-winning shot.
“I wasn’t even supposed to get much playing time at all, not even supposed to be on the active roster a lot of games,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “Next thing you know, unfortunately, some injuries happened, and it gave me an opportunity. I remember the first game I started we were at Minnesota and I wasn’t expecting to start or anything. They threw me in there and I was like, ‘Wow.’ From there my role expanded.”
Having signed a two-way contract, Williams was allowed a maximum of 45 days with the Clippers. The rest of the time was to be spent in the G-League. Because he was needed right away due to the Clippers’ injury woes, he approached that 45-day limit rather quickly. The 45-day time frame includes traveling and working out with the team regardless of whether or not Williams actually saw game action.
Williams hit his limit in early March, right after he himself returned from a lengthy absence due to an ankle injury. He was sent back to the G-League where he would have to remain until their season concluded at which point he’d be allowed to return to the Clippers. He’d played in the G-League prior to this season so it was nothing new. This year, in particular, he’s seen the marketing and popularity for the league expand. It’s to the point where he now sees it as a viable alternative for NBA hopefuls rather than heading overseas as many have done in the past.
“I think the opportunity with the two-way contract is expanding the market for players to stay. You want to take a chance to try to reach the high level of the NBA, but at the same time some guys have responsibilities, some guys have families,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “You have to make a tough decision. Sometimes you go overseas and make some money. But I think with the two-way contract and the expansion of the G-League, it’s becoming easier for guys to make that decision to stay home and work on their dreams.”
When the G-League season concluded, and Williams was able to return to the Clippers, he did so in time to try and help the team make a final push for a playoff spot. Although the Clippers ultimately fell short, Williams was rewarded with a personal accomplishment.
A few days before the end of the season, the Clippers announced that they had agreed to a three-year contract with Williams. Although the contract is non-guaranteed, it is a sense of triumph for someone who was an NBA rookie at age 28. While Williams is thrilled with this new opportunity, he’s already thinking of next season and what the team can do to reach their goal of the postseason.
“Doc [Rivers] talked about our ability to adapt and it was a really good season. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the playoffs which is obviously the goal, but we’ll work this summer to get better,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just been a dream come true.”
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