While the Cavaliers use the All-Star break to rest up (well most of them anyways) we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the season so far, and issue some grades. In addition, we will detail what the Cavaliers will need from each player in order to hoist some team hardware this summer. Next up? Mo Williams
When Danny Ferry acquired Mo Williams for Joe Smith and Damon Jones back in 2008, there were a lot of questions out there about what kind of impact Mo would have on this team. There were questions about his defense, about his ability to not be “the man” in crunch time situations, his ability to coexist with a player who was better than him, etc. It didn’t take Mo long, though, to silence most of his doubters as he fit right in with this team and, more importantly, gave the Cavaliers a sense of legitimacy. LeBron had his running mate, or so it seemed, as the Cavaliers plowed through the regular season. After running his mouth and not backing it up in the postseason, though, questions about Mo arose once more, and the Cavaliers brought in Shaquille O’Neal to try to play the Robin Role on the team. How has Mo adjusted and what has his impact been this season? Lets take a look.
I would submit that nobody on the Cavaliers was effected by Shaq’s arrival more than Mo Williams. As the Cavaliers stumbled out of the gate this season to that terrifying 0-2 start, Mo looked simply lost in the offense. He no longer knew how to find his shots as the 3rd option on the team, and the Cavaliers were misusing Shaq, having him set high screens and putting him directly in Mo’s way. It was ugly, and Mo scored just 12 points against Boston and 16 against Toronto.
I’ll never know for sure, but in my heart of hearts I will always believe that a big part of the closed door meetings that took place between Danny Ferry and Mike Brown after that start was about making sure Mo Williams was involved in the offense. In game #3, the Cavaliers re-asserted Mo as the #2 scoring option, and responded by putting up 20 points in the win against the Timberwolves and he followed that up with 24 points in the win against Charlotte. From there, Mo had his signature swagger back and the Cavaliers were on their way.
For me, the start of this season was a perfect microcosm for the impact and significance of Mo Williams on this basketball team. While he has adapted to including his teammates more this season, he has maintained his position as the #2 guy to LeBron despite the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal. In fact, Mo’s shots per 36 mins are the lowest they’ve been for him since his first year in Milwaukee, which was the 2nd year of his career. Conversely, his assists have gone up from a year ago. Despite his shooting numbers being down across the board from last year and giving up almost a shot per game, his scoring has only dipped by 1 point per game. This isn’t because he’s shooting more 3s. He’s not. His 3PA are exactly the same as last year. Mo’s big improvement has been in getting to the FT line more often, another side effect of his more confident and aggressive nature on this team.
Role On The Team:
A lot of this was covered in the Relevant Stats portion of this report, but Mo has firmly established himself as a proven scorer who can keep the ship steady while LeBron sits. In almost every way, Mo Williams is LeBron’s 2nd in command on this team. Despite missing the last few weeks with the shoulder injury, Mo is still 4th on the team in total minutes played. He plays only 3 fewer minutes per game than LeBron, easily 2nd on the team. Without a true backup PG on the team, Mo’s role as primary ball handler is even more important and a big part of his presence is so significant to this team.
I’ve heard a few whispers from some people that this current 13 game win streak without Mo Williams is an indication that he’s really not important to this team at all. I think that is a ridiculous assertion. I think this current win streak shows how insanely impressive LeBron James is as a basketball player, as he has adapted to fill some of the PG role and has increased his scoring output to help make up for the difference. I think it also illustrates the depth and versatility of the roster that Danny Ferry has assembled. But it would be a mistake to overlook Mo’s role on this team.
Defensively, Mo is never going to be an All-NBA defender, but I will give him this, he almost always gives effort on defense. He lacks the lateral quickness to prevent quicker PGs from getting that first step around him, but that’s not so much a product of a lack of effort as it is just a physical limitation. There were a lot of questions about his defensive liabilities when the Cavaliers acquired him, and we’ve seen some of them manifest here in Cleveland, but Mike Brown has built a system that tries to recover for said shortcomings. It’s not perfect, and there are times when Mo falls asleep and allows defenders to blow by him.
Having said all that, though, Mo is almost always on the court in crunch time when possessions matter the most. This shows the trust Mike Brown has in Mo on both sides of the court, and in the clutch, Mo has rewarded Mike Brown’s faith with stellar defensive play. While Mo’s regular defensive rating may be mediocre, in what 82games.com defines as Clutch Situations, the Cavaliers give up only 79.7 points per 100 possessions with Mo on the floor (down from 82.3 last year, when the Cavaliers played better team defense). That defensive rating in clutch situations is better than Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Raymond Felton, Derek Fisher, Mike Bibby, Chauncey Billups, etc. In other words, it’s not just a factor of being on a good defensive team, it’s also a factor of the job Mo does locking down on defense in crunch time when the team needs him the most.
Mo also is perfect from the FT line in clutch situations, and has only 2 turnovers all season in clutch situations. He has an 8.0 assist to bad pass ration in the clutch. So even though his shooting in the clutch is way down, he has adjusted his game and found other ways to make himself an indispensible part of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their success.
How can Mo best help the Cavaliers hoist the hardware this summer?
This one’s too easy. He needs to show up, primarily in the later rounds of the playoffs. Look, while his comments in the postseason about the Magic were unfortunate, it’s not a reason to write the guy off permanently. Mo Williams is great teammate, a great presence in the community, and by all indications, one of the genuine good guys in the NBA. Sure, he uses his swagger as fuel, and when he disappears like he did in the ECF last year, he looks foolish. But we have way too small of a sample size to write the guy off as a perennial playoff choke artist. If the Cavaliers are going to win an NBA title as currently constructed, they are going to need Mo Williams to be an integral part of that, doing many of the very same things we’ve discussed in this report.
If the Cavaliers are not going to make a trade for another premier scorer, that means the Cavaliers will live or die with Mo Williams as their 2nd option. It’s one thing to win 13 games without your 2nd best player (talent-wise) and starting PG, it’s an entirely different thing to do so in the playoffs. We saw first hand what happens to the Cavaliers in the post season when games tighten up. Suddenly, role players disappear and LeBron is left shouldering the load. Last year, LeBron only had Delonte West to consistently rely on, and that’s why the Cavaliers did not win the title. In addition to needing help from at least one role player, LeBron will need Mo Williams to be the Mo Williams that we know and have grown to love.
It might seem weird giving Mo Williams an A- considering his decline in shooting and scoring this year (his 2 strongest attributes). However, I couldn’t see a B+ really being a fair grade either because of what Mo has meant to this team in 4th quarters this year. Furthermore, I have a lot of admiration for the way he has adapted to Shaq’s presence and his increased understanding in how to better incorporate his teammates into the offense. Mo came to Cleveland as a pure scorer, but every year in Cleveland he seems to be growing into a better leader and a better pure PG. He’ll never be a Chris Paul or Deron Williams type of PG, but his development into a sort of hybrid PG is nothing to be underrated.
It would be easy, too, to use his injury against him as a reason to fall into the B to B+ range, but Mo has been one of the most durable Cavaliers over the past 2 seasons. It was a fluke injury, and in my opinion, it has taught the Cavaliers some valuable lessons along the way. So what is keeping Mo from getting an A or A+? Well, primarily, it’s his decline in shooting and because I don’t feel he attacks the rim enough yet. He’s one of the best FT shooters in the NBA, and if he can ever feel comfortable to the point that he can take over stretches of the game by driving and drawing fouls, he will then be a solid A or A+ PG on this team. For now, he’s not there yet, but he’s still an impressive A- player in my book. This has been another solid season for Mo, who has seen the Cavaliers grow from a pathetic offensive team without him into a Top 5 Offense in the NBA with him. It’s been fun to watch, but for Mo’s sake, I hope the best is yet to come for him and the Cavaliers.