The Los Angeles Clippers made some key offseason acquisitions to strengthen their championship hopes and, to this point, players like Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum have had the desired impact.
But if the Clippers want to be the last team standing at the end of the postseason, they’re also going to need key contributions from some of the veterans who were already on the team – most notably Lou Williams.
In his 15th season, Williams is the longest-tenured player on the roster, and also one of the team’s most important. His penchant for scoring off the bench is nearly unparalleled in the league today and he’s become the leader of the Clippers’ second unit. After missing a few games with a hip injury and getting off to an inconsistent start, Williams has turned things around and is having a strong season.
His role has largely remained the same as a designated scorer off the bench, but it’s also evolved from game-to-game. With players on the roster with versatile skillsets, Williams has taken to doing whatever is needed on any given night.
“My job stays the same. I think collectively with us having so many different pieces, it’s important for us to have a positive impact on the game whether it’s going to be one night I need to be more of a facilitator or just being a scorer,” Williams said on a recent call with media.
“The only thing that we can change is just our effort. I think it’s important for us to play hard and so that’s what I focus on.”
Williams scoring, while dropping a few points from recent seasons, has remained effective and he’s still someone opposing teams need to plan for. He’s averaging 12.4 points per game, his lowest in the past eight years – all the way back in 2013-14 when he was recovering from a knee injury with the Atlanta Hawks.
But he’s still shooting around 43 percent from the field and a career-high 40 percent from three-point range. Williams can check into the game and take over on the offensive end. He had a four-game stretch last month where he dropped 23, 27, 17 and a season-high 30 points consecutively and the Clippers won three out of those four games.
While Williams has had offensive freedom throughout his career, he credits Clippers’ head coach Tyronn Lue and his staff for encouraging him to be even more creative offensively. With so many different offensive weapons on the team and opponents unable to help much defensively, Williams feels that’s easier for him to take advantage of his matchups and get rolling.
He’s done his part as a veteran to encourage the rest of his teammates to be aggressive offensively as well.
“They preach take good shots and take open shots. That goes for everybody on our roster. I don’t think we have a guy that goes out there and nobody absolutely doesn’t guard like some teams have,” Williams said. “I think we have a lot of capable shot makers and Patrick Beverley is one of those guys. He’s a really good stand-still shooter. I encourage the same thing, if he’s open, those are going to be the best shots that we are going to get on the offensive end. I encourage that as well.”
But perhaps the biggest difference in Williams’ game this year from previous seasons is his play on the defensive end of the court. It’s not that Williams is a bad defensive player, but he’s never been someone that will be a candidate for an All-Defensive team.
This season though, Williams has been giving his all on that end and then some. He hasn’t all of a sudden transformed into a lockdown defender, but his play has been very noticeable. He’s been in the passing lanes and causing turnovers that lead to Clipper transition opportunities.
Williams attributed his defensive play to veteran smarts that tell him where to be on the court.
“It’s being in the right spots, understanding what’s expected of me and not trying to do too much,” Williams said. “My role is clear on the defensive end, where I need to be in certain situations, what spots I need to be in, in certain situations and just being somebody that my teammates can rely on, on that end of the floor.”
It’s been a little more than that, however. Williams admitted that he’s taken more of a personal focus on contributing defensively. He’s done more preparation off the court than before and he’s done so because he feels that in order for the Clippers to make good on their championship hopes, everyone on the team has to pull more weight than they’re used to.
“It’s also understanding my opponents and just doing more homework and more research than I would in the past,” Williams said. “For us to reach our ultimate goal, everybody’s kind of got to do a little bit more to get outside of themselves including me. That’s been a focus for me.”
If the franchise is to eventually make it out of the Western Conference and win it all, something no Clipper team has ever done before, it can be certain that Williams is going to play a key role on both ends of the court in getting them there.
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