Larry Bird can yak for the next zillion years about how he would as soon make a nice pass as score from 25 feet. Wes Unseld, bless him, can insist that a rebound is as lovely as a poem. They lie. Nothing beats shooting. The truest thrill in basketball comes when you throw the ball through the hoop. Nothing beats it. Nothing we can talk about on the sports page, anyway. You think there isn't a Dr. J inside big Wes just dying to do a 360-degree spin dunk? The majesty of Unseld is that he resists such mighty temptation and makes the dirty work into poetry.
But shooting is the real thing.
It is an addiction.
Shooters can't get enough of the stuff.
Take the basketball away from a shooter, he is a man lost, a man friendless.
Did someone mention John Williamson?
The newest Bullet is a shooter.
And that's the trouble.
This Bullet team has no room for a shooter who needs the ball as much as Williamson has needed it over the years.
The Roger Phegley-for-Williamson trade was a mistake.
Okay, it's too early to say that.Let us wait and see, right? Maybe Williamson will come in here and fit right in with a team that is built around the big guys inside. Maybe Williamson is tired of all that shooting. Maybe he doesn't want to be the big star anymore. He has scored more than 20 points a game for the last three years. Maybe now he's ready to let Elvin and Bobby D take all the shots and all the glory while he puts up an occasional 20-footer.
And maybe Bo Derek is a 3.
All we're talking about here are cold numbers. We're not talking about Williamson's personality problems in New Jersey. He calls himself "Super John," which may give you an idea. He wanted $300,000 to shoot this year, a nice raise from his $185,000 contract. He sulked. He was benched. To pass the time, he ate a lot. He got fat. They kept him on the bench until he lost 20 pounds. Then they traded him to whoever was in enough of a panic to take him.
The Bullets were in panic.
They traded away Phegley who has a furture, for Williamson, who has a past.
Just look at the cold numbers.
Elvin Hayes shoots a lot. Over the last three seasons and 60 percent of this one, Hayes has averaged 18.3 shots a game. George Gervin, to pick an indefatigable shooter, has average 20.2 shots in the same time.
And John Williamson has taken 19.4 shots a game. John Williamson, who has not been in the playoffs as Hayes has, who has averaged 20 points a game, not the 28 of Gervin, who was the 14th leading scorer in the NBA last year -- this John Williamson took more shots per game last year (18.4) than all but a handful of men with names such as Erving, Gervin, Maravich and Free.
And now, with the Bullets, can he be expected to cut down on his machine gunnery?
Williamson is to be the shooting guard in the Bullet offense.
In the best of times, when Kevin Grevey was fulley healthy, the Bullets' shooting guard took 14 shots a game.
For a John Williamson on a three-year habit of more than 19 shots a game, the reduction to 14 could be demoralizing.It is hard to be "Super John" on 14 shots a night. Lloyd Free, you remember, was not truly "All-World," as he called himself, until freed by the San Diego Clippers to shoot 21 times a game last season.
To make circumstances worse, the Bullet offense has become so feeble that the shooting guard, Grevey, is getting only 11 shots a night now.
The Bullets, never good shooters, are terrible right now.
Without the good shooting from outside that the Bullet front office hopes will be supplied by Williamson, Elvin Hayes if forced to shoot more often than they'd like. He is shooting nearly 20 times a game, up two shots a night from his work of the last two nice seasons. And Bobby Dandridge, at 17 shots a game, is up one.
And their shooting percentages are down. At 45.9 percent, Dandridge is having his worst shooting year after hitting 48.7 percent for 10 seasons. Hayes is shooting 44.6 percent, his lowest in five seasons.
Williamson, a gunner in his seventh pro season, is shooting 44.7 percent this year.
That's not all that bad. But it isn't good enough, considering the problems that seem attendant to Williamson, to warrant trading away a Roger Phegley who is his second season is shooting 47.4 percent while learning the things that will make him a good pro the next four or five years.
This trade is a Hail Mary. You make it and pray a lot. The Bullets are gambling with Williamson on the hopes this gunner will gun them into the playoffs. The general manager, Bob Ferry, has said the playoffs are the important thing, for, of course, you cannot win a championship if you don't get into the playoffs.
What this team needs to get into the playoffs is not a gunner who may further spoil the team's chemistry, already messed up by injuries and personnel changes. This team needs a yound, big guy up front to give Hayes and Unseld rest: If Roger Phegley had to be traded, better it might have been to wait until season's end and put him in a package with Hayes that brings a young, big center to town.