The Kyrie Irving vs. Derrick Williams debate dominated discussion in the lead-up to last June’s NBA draft. Would a versatile forward or a promising point guard be the most fitting face of the post-LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers?
Ultimately, the Cavs went with Irving, and it appears they made the right choice. The explosive 19-year-old leads all rookies in scoring at 18.3 points per game and averages 5.1 assists for a much-improved team.
Meantime Williams has struggled to find consistent minutes in Minnesota with the likes of All-Star Kevin Love, and fellow forwards Michael Beasely, Martell Webster, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver all on the roster.
But with Love dealing with foul trouble and a bruised rib on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Williams took full advantage of a bump in court time. Co-starring with Beasley, he poured in a career-high 27 points to help lead the Timberwolves to a 109-107 road win over the Clippers, reminding everyone why Minnesota was so giddy to land him at No. 2 overall.
“I was picking my spots and knocking down open shots,” said Williams, who scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and was a perfect 4 for 4 from three-point range. “Kevin didn’t have one of his best nights, so people had to step up. That’s the good thing about our team. Even though Kevin’s the All-Star, we have a lot of other people who can do great things. And when he’s struggling, people have to come off the bench and pick him up.”
Coming into Tuesday’s game, Williams was averaging a modest 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 34 contests. He played 27 minutes against the Clippers — nine more than his season average. But while Williams’ showing may earn him a few more minutes here and there, he’ll be hard pressed to chip away at Love’s league-leading 39.5 minutes per game.
But now that his coach and teammates have seen a glimpse of the inside-outside combination that made Williams the 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year at Arizona, they’ll be looking for more from their top draft pick on a nightly basis.
“It all started with Derrick,” Beasley told the Star Tribune. “It's his night, it's his city. He was just going out there with a clear mind playing the game he has been playing for 21 years now. I expect that out of him every night. I wasn't that surprised.”
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