- Harry How/Getty
- Lou Williams is having a career year for the Los Angeles Clippers, who have climbed back into the playoff picture.
- Williams has been one of the hottest scorers in the NBA over the last month, scoring 50 points against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.
- Few players in NBA history have ever had the same offensive impact off the bench that Williams has had for the Clippers this season.
The Los Angeles Clippers are 19-21, ninth place in the Western Conference, and in the hunt for a playoff spot, to the surprise of many.
The Clippers were teetering on the edge in early December when they fell to 8-15, with trade rumors around DeAndre Jordan suggesting the team might have to blow it up and start over.
Since then, however, the Clippers have gone 11-6 and have been led by an unlikely hero: 31-year-old reserve guard Lou Williams.
Williams arrived in L.A. from Houston as part of the Chris Paul trade in late June. Having played on five teams over the last six years, Williams seemed like a throw-in to the trade – a player who could help the Clippers in doses this season but was likely not long for the team.
Instead, Williams has caught fire, posting career-highs for a Clippers team that’s hanging around, despite only getting a few games from some of its best players. Williams is averaging 22.9 points per game in 31 minutes per game, shooting 45% from the field and 41% from three. Over the last 16 games, Williams has been one of the hottest players in the NBA, averaging 28 points per game, third in the league over that time.
On Wednesday, Williams turned in his finest performance yet, dropping 50 points on the short-handed Golden State Warriors to lead the Clippers to a 125-106 win. And he did it on a tidy 16-27 shooting, going 8-16 from three and 10-10 from the free throw line.
Williams is a microwave scorer – he comes in and can suddenly get hot. On Wednesday, Williams showed how he can flip the switch, starting 2-of-7 from the field before shooting 14-of-20 the rest of the way.
Williams is slippery and shifty, throwing jukes and fakes at defenders to get where he wants.
And once he’s hot, every shot is a good one, no matter the distance or means of getting it.
What Williams is doing is borderline unprecedented. He has started in just nine of his 39 games this season. With the season at the halfway point, let’s say Williams starts 20 games by the time the year is over. According to Basketball-Reference, only 19 players in NBA history have ever averaged over 20 points per game while starting 20 or fewer games.
But there is noise there – most of those players were starters who got injured and only played 20 or fewer games that season. Of those 19 players, only four of them played over 50 games in those seasons. And only one, Ricky Pierce in 1989-90, averaged more points than Williams (23.0 to Williams’ 22.9). Yet Williams already ranks fifth in Win Shares in that group, despite only playing half of the season.
In other words, almost no player has had this type of offensive impact on their team off the bench. Other players have contributed more win shares than Williams over the course of the season, but have not had the same type of scoring output or they started more games.
Of course, Williams could tail off in his efficiency, he could continue to start more games, or get injured and miss time. But for now, he’s been the catalyst to the Clippers’ run.
The Clippers had many reasons to give up this season. They’ve gotten just 24 games from Blake Griffin this year, 13 games from Milos Teodosic, just 11 from big offseason signing Danilo Gallinari, and just 11 from Patrick Beverley, another player acquired from Houston.
Instead, the Clippers have rallied around Williams and DeAndre Jordan while getting production from normal end-of-the-bench-type of players who have stepped up in the absence of the bigger names. If the team can ever get healthy, the Western Conference playoff race might get even tighter.