When you take Baron Davis off a team, any team, and replace him with Mo Williams, you will inevitably get a different style of play from your point guard. One is an exceptional passer, the other – aside from a few months this year in Cleveland – a gifted shooter. But beyond these most basic characteristics, when you take Williams from those Cavs and put him on these Clippers, the dynamic changes completely, and so far, the results have been positive.
The transformation began on the day the trade went down, with Williams immediately waiving his Early Termination Option for next season. And while his decision to accept $8.5 million next year would make plenty of sense financially, it was also pretty obviously a display of willingness to buy into what the Clippers are
building. He may not have found a contract to pay him that much had he eventually opted out, but he might have, and he definitely would have gotten a multi-year deal somewhere. That’s not to say Baron did not “buy in,” but it’s worth noting that the very pretenses under which Mo became a Clipper were based on sacrifice,
a stark contrast to the max contract and hero’s expectations that welcomed his predecessor.
In the 13 games before the trade, the Clippers had had gone 2-11. They appeared to have no answer when opponents swarmed Blake Griffin and forced others to beat them. Since the move, the Clippers are 6-5. It’s a small sample, but of all the positive things we can say about this season, with promising rookies and development and chemistry building, the one thing that has been missing has been wins. More specifically, wins without Eric Gordon. That, at least for the time being, has changed.
Along with the return of Chris Kaman, it’s been Williams’ insertion into the lineup that has keyed the turnaround, a positive sign for what figures to be a similar roster going into next year. Back is the shooting stroke that eluded him the past few months in post-LeBron Cleveland, and it’s apparent just how much that ability adds to the Clipper offense. Neil Olshey has done his best to supplement his stars with able threats to spread the floor, and the addition of a career 38.9% 3-point shooter does exactly that. The frequency with which teams load up the paint to stop Griffin has increased, but that now has a legitimate downside with Williams out there to punish them.
He is a scorer, and while he will never be the passer that Davis was for the Clippers, it’s important to remember the idea of replacement level. The popular refrain when Baron left town was that we may not see as many expertly thrown lobs, but as we’ve seen, that just isn’t true. Most NBA guards have plenty of practice initiating
alley-oops. Baron did things that made our jaws drop, but neither Williams nor Eric Bledsoe should have much trouble putting it up there for Blake and DeAndre to throw down. What is lost with Baron gone is his penetration ability and the strength he possessed that allowed him to fend off defenders and deliver passes in position for his teammates to score.
Even that had a downside, though, because Baron often had to dominate the ball for large parts of possessions to break down the defense. While he had some success, he did so at the expense, generally, of Gordon’s involvement. With Gordon back now, the team is really set up to operate as it would like. In the limited time they have played together, Mo has shown a willingness to feed Gordon on the wing and play off the ball. It’s the structure that allowed the Clippers to have success earlier in the season with Gordon and Griffin thriving on pick-and-rolls, and now they just have another shooter in Williams if teams choose to trap the primary action.
Chemistry with Gordon and Griffin is, of course, the ultimate goal, and Williams appears to be doing fine in that regard. Upon Baron’s return to L.A. with the Cavs, Gordon had the opportunity to compare the two point guards, and his response was telling, explaining probably one reason, other than his contract, why he was traded:
“They’re different. Baron was more of guy who liked to bring it down, almost for the home run type of guy,” Gordon said. “He was a really good passer. He’s a guy who would go for the home run. They are two different players. He [Williams] is more of a catch-and-shoot [player]. Baron is more creative.”
He wouldn’t go so far to stay with the baseball theme when asked whether Williams was a singles hitter.
“Well, no he’s a guy …he just lets everybody do what they do,” Gordon said. “Baron, you had to have him accountable to make sure he plays well. Because he has to do a little bit of scoring, a little bit of passing and whatever he needed to do.
“With Baron, you just never know. That’s why I said home run. He might take the last shot. He likes making the last play.”
That tendency to go for the home run is part of who Baron Davis is, and while it has its benefits, it simply wasn’t the right fit on a team where Gordon and Griffin need to be the ones dictating the flow of the team. As Gordon said, Mo’s value is in letting everybody do what they do, fitting in himself as the guy who can knock down shots. So far that’s working because they are winning games, and if it makes things better for EJ, that’s even better.