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A Clipper a Day - Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams has had a nice NBA career.  Entering his 14th season at the age of 36, he's played in 682 regular season NBA games, over 612 of them off the bench.  He's the definition of a veteran role player.

He's had some great high points in his career.  After bouncing around to 6 teams in his first 6 NBA seasons, he found a home in New Jersey with the Nets.  He landed with the Nets in 2000, a year before Jason Kidd, and he got to go with Jason to consecutive NBA Finals.  His reward in those series?  The honor of guarding Shaquille O'Neal in the 2002 Finals, and Tim Duncan in 2003.  

Still, as tough as those assignments were, I assume that Aaron Williams earned more than one fan in LA guarding a guy 4 inches and at least 70 pounds bigger.  No one ever accused Aaron Williams of not working hard.

No one ever accused him of being a scorer either.  In 13 NBA seasons, he has averaged double figures exactly once.  The season he scored 10.2 points per game for the Nets also happens to be one of the worst field goal percentage seasons of his career.  That tells me that you can run some plays for him and get his average up some, but it's not what you want to do.  He's the kind of guy that needs to limit his offense to dunks and tip-ins.  He shot close to 55% doing just that for the Clippers last year.

Not that he can't make the occasional 15 footer.  But he has no low post game to speak of, and not much way to get his shot off.  He's an NBA player and he can sink a shot from time to time, but scoring the basketball is not what has kept him in the league going on 14 years.

What has kept him in the league is low post defense, which he plays very well.  At 6'9" he's undersized for an NBA center, yet that is where he has made his living.  On more than one occasion last season, Williams got the early first quarter call when Chris Kaman was getting torched.  How is it that Aaron Williams at 6'9" can do a better defensive job on Yao Ming than Chris Kaman?  One of the real mysteries of life.

Williams definitely adds value to this team this season as exactly that - a reliable low post defender.  Kaman is the starter, and hopefully will be able to play big minutes.  Paul Davis is likely going to be the primary backup to Kaman based on pre-season.  But Kaman's tendency to disappear defensively, and Davis' lack of quickness mean there will be nights when Williams has to come in to stop the bleeding.  

Still, I can't help thinking that the Clippers should have cut loose the 36 year old veteran to keep Guillermo Diaz.  Williams is in the final year of his contract, and will certainly not be back with the Clippers next season.  Yes, he's going to be called upon to play some center, and yes he's a solid backup in case of injury.  But Josh Powell would seem to have the size to play some emergency center as well, and let's face it, this season is all about gambling.  Keeping Williams is playing it safe.  Waiving him (which would have cost the Clippers his $1.8M salary) and keeping Diaz - an electric young scorer - was a gamble worth taking, in my humble opinion.  And Williams could have tried to catch on with a contender in need of veteran front court help for one last shot at the ring that eluded him in New Jersey.

But it doesn't change who Aaron Williams is.  A solid NBA backup center who works hard on every play.  If he can be a good influence on youngsters like Kaman and Davis and Powell, so much the better.

By the way, Williams is one of those bigs from Xavier University in Cincinnati.  Since 1991, in addition to Williams, Xavier has sent power forwards Ty Hill, Derek Strong (a former Clipper), Brian Grant and David West to the NBA, and each of them played at least 10 seasons (except for West, who is well on his way).  I thought you should know.