The 2016-17 NBA season has been a roller coaster of injuries for the Los Angeles Clippers. In just his second game this season, his first in the NBA, point guard Milos Teodosic went down with a foot injury that sidelined him for 22 games. Since then, various Clippers have had to sit numerous games due to injury: Blake Griffin (14 games missed), Patrick Beverley (out for the season after playing 11 games) and Danilo Gallinari (13 games missed, still injured). In the last few games the Clippers have lost Austin Rivers to an ankle injury (out at least two weeks) while Teodosic is day-to-day with another injury.
Simply put, the Clippers have not been able to field the team they assembled this offseason and their record has suffered accordingly. However, with chaos comes opportunity. Coach Doc Rivers has relied on rookies and untested young players like never before in his tenure with the Clippers and surprisingly, the team has been able to keep within striking distance of a playoff spot. Currently, the Clippers are one spot out of the playoffs with two more losses than the eighth place New Orleans Pelicans.
Count 27-year-old rookie C.J. Williams among the leading beneficiaries of this opportunity. This is the first season the NBA has implemented the two-way player designation. NBA rosters can now feature up to 17 players, as opposed to 15 previously. A designated two-way player can spend the majority of their time in the NBA G League and not more than 45 days with their NBA team. For many players, the hope is that with the time they are afforded with a team, they make an impression and are ultimately signed for the rest of the season. Williams is on a two-way contract and has played well for the Clippers so far this season.
Williams recently spoke with Basketball Insiders about his game, his tenure with the Clippers and more.
“It’s been pretty good,” Williams stated. “I’ve showed that I belong in the league.”
Williams has recently made his way into the starting lineup and has held that spot for the last 11 games. During this stretch, he is scoring 8.6 points, 1.2 rebounds and one steal in 28.4 minutes per game. In that same period, he has a positive net rating of 7.4, giving an indication that the team performs well when he is on the court. His overall stats for the season don’t jump off the page, but his impact for the Clippers has been apparent to those who have monitored his play so far this season.
Williams’ shooting numbers for the season (30.8 percent on three-point shots) or even during his recent stretch starting aren’t great. However, Williams expressed confidence regarding his abilities while acknowledging that he is adjusting to the NBA.
“I’ve always been a great shooter,” Williams said. “I’ve had my opportunities to shoot the ball consistently from the three … it’s a little different out here. It’s a little faster so I really have to learn how to get my feet underneath me quicker and get the ball off.”
While the most recent injuries to Rivers and Teodosic continue to ensure the need for other players to step in, nothing is guaranteed. Williams had been playing alongside fellow two-way forward Jamil Wilson, whom was recently released to make space for Tyrone Wallace (also on a two-way contract).
With a two-way contract comes the risk of being released instead of signed for the remainder of the season. In addition, a two-way player who is not ultimately signed to a regular NBA contract will make far less than the NBA rookie minimum, which is slightly less than one million for the season. Fringe NBA players can potentially make far more than a two-way player in various overseas leagues. Williams was asked about the risk of playing on a two-way contract instead of signing on with a team overseas.
“It’s worth the risk for sure, especially when you know you belong somewhere,” Williams stated. “You know it’d be different if I was questioning myself, whether I belong here or not. Just knowing I am an NBA player, I am a guy that could be making a living in this league.”
Williams has bounced around the past few years with a prior stint in the G League with the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Williams also spent time playing in Italy and France. Williams made it clear that he is still improving and has even more to show.
“Personally, I still think that I could play better, I could be more efficient,” Williams stated. “I don’t want to become a volume shooter. I want to be more efficient on the offensive end. On the defensive end, I just keep learning.”
Whether Williams stays on the roster for the remainder of the season is still up in the air. While injuries will likely dictate how much of an opportunity Williams will receive going forward, he can still demonstrate his worth with his play and effort with the time he has.
“I just want to go out and play my heart out every game,” Williams said.
How effective the two-way player designation is for teams and players will become clearer over time. For now, C.J. Williams has stepped up when asked to do so and continues to fight for his place in the NBA.
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