This has been a crazy season for the Cavaliers, but perhaps no player has been more difficult to figure out than Mo Williams. Mo’s emotional off season has been well documented, and I’m not going to get into it again other than to point out that it sets the backdrop for Mo’s role of intended leader heading into this season.
Mo suffered a groin injury early in preseason workouts and thus missed basically all of the preseason and training camp. Never really having a chance to grow into that role, it was unclear what Mo’s game would look like once he rejoined the team. Mo finally came back in the 4th game of the season against the Atlanta Hawks and he immediately looked like a catalyst to spark the fast paced offense we had all heard Byron Scott was going to bring.
After that first game, Mo went on to score 20+ points in each of the next two games and it appeared that he was on his way to really breaking out and showing what he was capable of being without LeBron James around. Unfortunately, his next three games would see him score just two, nine, and eight points respectively; he would be in single digits in four out of five games. He would then score 20+ points in three straight games, before going nine straight games without eclipsing that level. After his 25-point, 12-assist performance against Memphis on November 27th, he wouldn’t score 20 again until his 22-point, 11-assist night against Indiana on December 17th.
All of this illustrates the roller coaster season Mo has had from a pure scoring standpoint. Overall, he has struggled the most with his shot.
In his first two seasons, Mo shot 43.6% and 42.9% from three-point land, respectively. This season, he has has seen his three-point shooting drop all the way to 28.3%. Whereas with LeBron, he was asked to mostly hit wide-open threes, in Byron Scott’s offense he is forced to create his own shot. The last two seasons with LeBron around, Mo was assisted on 46% of his field goals made. This year he is being assisted on just 31.5% of his field goals. The last two years, he was assisted on 80.3% and 74.2% of his 3 pt FGs while this year that number is down to just 60.7%.
Across the board, his shooting numbers are the lowest of his career since his rookie season when he was a role player and carrying just 13 minutes off the bench for Jerry Sloan in Utah. He’s shooting just 40.5% from the field (lowest since rookie season), 84.1% from the FT line (ditto), and his eFG% is down from .535 a year ago to just .445 this season.
While this all sounds like dire news for a player who will never be known for his defense and thus relies on his offense to make his living, Mo does deserve some credit in this overall disappointing season. While it would be easy for Mo to start to push things and to settle more or even just give up, Mo has instead begun to show that Byron Scott’s offense might be clicking with him as he has worked to find new ways to provide offense to this team.
We knew that Mo’s Usage Rate would go up this year, but I’m not sure we knew it would rise over five percentage points from 22.0% last year to 27.3% this year. That number is easily the highest of his career as he has taken the reins of this offense. He’s attempting the most FTs per game of his career while he’s taking the fewest three-pointers per game since he joined the Cavaliers. These numbers show that Mo is making adjustments to his offensive game rather than trying to force the issue with a struggling long-range jumper.
Nowhere, though, is this more evident than in his assist numbers as Mo continues to look to facilitate offense through his teammates. On the season Mo is averaging a career high 7.2 assists per game. Williams has really expanded his grasp of the offense in this area over the last 11 games, and in particular the last five. He has had double-digit assists in five straight games and seven of his last 11, averaging 9.64 assists per game over the last 11 games and 11.4 assists per game in the last five.
Currently, only Mo Williams and Raymond Felton of the Knicks are on a streak of at least five consecutive games with 10+ assists. In fact, this season, the only players in the NBA to have at least a five-game streak of 10+ assists are Rajon Rondo (twice), Steve Nash, Felton, and Mo. Steve Nash currently has a four-game streak and he had another four-game streak earlier this season. No other player in the NBA has had more than a three-game streak.
The NBA today is most certainly a point guard’s league. And while Mo’s shooting numbers are down and his scoring has been pretty inconsistent, he has made massive strides in trying to morph his game into a more pure point guard-type role, setting up his teammates as well as any other player in the NBA right now.
Of course, as the Cavaliers fall farther and farther back into the cellar, any daydreams this team may have once had of sneaking into the playoffs are quickly fading. Which means any advancements Mo makes in his game really only truly matter in the scope of the future of this franchise. With an early termination option and then a player option the following season for $8.5 million each year, trading a player who is shooting career lows becomes more and more tricky.
Having said that, Mo showing an adaptability nobody has seen before is certainly increasing his potential value to teams. He’s already shown that if you can keep his USG% down and don’t need him to create his own shot, he can be successful in shooting high percentages from long range. On the other hand, if you need him to be more of a facilitator, he’s showing that he actually has more of that in him than any of us knew before.
None of this means that the Cavaliers have to trade him, of course. In reality, I know that deep down his salary doesn’t necessarily help a rebuilding team and trading him is probably what’s best for the Cavaliers. Yet, even considering Mo’s streaky play and bearing in mind that there’s no guarantee that Mo can keep up this assist rate, if he does develop a comfort level in Byron Scott’s offense, there can be value for the Cavaliers in keeping him.
Obviously he’s not a centerpiece that the Cavaliers can or should build around, but at 28 years old, he’s young enough that he could be a nice complimentary piece to have established on the team should the Cavaliers be fortunate enough to find a star player to build around in the next year or two. Whether that player is theoretically acquired via trade with the Trade Exception or in the draft, unless he’s a PG, having a veteran who not only understands this offense, but also can excel in setting up teammates in it could be helpful, especially considering, again, that today’s NBA is a point guard-driven league.
Yes, if the Cavs have an opportunity to acquire a young talent in a trade, and the other team is asking for Mo Williams to be included in the deal, then, by all means, the Cavaliers absolutely should trade him. None of this is to say that Mo is an elite point guard or that he should be untouchable in trade scenarios. Instead, this is all just to point out that in a difficult season in which it can be hard to identify the positives, it’s worth noting that even though on the surface it may seem like Mo Williams is having a down year, he’s actually doing some positive things for the Cavaliers and for this struggling offense.
Perhaps the fact that praising Mo Williams for his assists is a sign of just how bleak things have become for the Cavaliers, but this is our new reality. And in this new reality, finding positives that the team can build on is the new name of the game. Now the Cavaliers just have to hope that Mo can sustain this level of play, whether he entices a trade or is a part of the team long term.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)