This is the tenth of our Clips Nation "exit interviews" of the 2012Los Angeles Clippers, an overview and analysis, player by player, of all 15 Clippers who finished the 2011-2012 season on the roster. In this edition, sixth man Mo Williams.
Contract Status: One year remaining at $8.5M (player option)
In a Nutshell
On December 9, when the abbreviated post-lockout training camp opened for the 2011-2012 season, Mo Williams was the Clippers starting point guard, as indeed he had been since arriving in L.A. in February 2011 as part of the trade that sent Baron Davis and a lottery pick to Cleveland. Mo was relishing his position as a veteran leader on the team, and had taken an active role in organizing workouts during the lockout. He went so far as to guarantee that the Clippers would make the playoffs, a bold statement for a team coming off a 32-50 season who hadn't made any significant changes (yet). On December 12, the Clippers signed five time All Star point guard Chauncey Billups off of amnesty waivers. Two days after that, the Clippers traded for the best point guard in the NBA, Chris Paul. In a matter of a few days, Williams went from the starter to third on the depth chart at his preferred position.
With Billups installed as the starting two guard and Paul at the point, Williams assumed a new role on the team -- as the instant offense sixth man. It's an honorable role in the NBA, from the likes of Vinnie the Microwave Johnson to Jason JET Terry, and it was a pretty good role for Williams. But it definitely required an adjustment for Mo, which was difficult at first. Williams is a former All Star himself and had been a full time starter in the league for five seasons. To his credit, despite the occasional grumble about it being a difficult adjustment, Williams embraced his new role and filled it well. In fact, even after Billups was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, coach Vinny Del Negro left Williams in the sixth man role rather than inserting him into the starting unit at shooting guard. He played well enough to finish eighth in the Sixth Man Award voting.
Williams season was a bit of a roller coaster. In January he shot 53% overall and 47% from deep. That white hot start was followed by a terrible slump that saw him shoot 35% and 31% in February. After that his shooting reverted to the mean, and he finished the season at 43% overall, 39% from deep -- numbers really close to his career averages.
Williams is a scorer -- he averaged over 17 points per game for three consecutive seasons a few years back. Not counting Billups who missed most of the season, Williams was third on the Clippers in scoring this season behind a couple of blokes named Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. He has a very valuable NBA skill, the ability to get his own shot. Playing with a second unit that often featured offensively challenged teammates like Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Ryan Gomes and Eric Bledsoe, more often than not it fell to Williams to make something out of nothing.
His shooting percentage is not stellar, in large part because he takes a lot of tough shots; but he does so by necessity in many cases, and he manages to make more of them than you might think -- floaters, runners, baby hooks, he's got the whole bag of tricks. One wonders if Williams' shooting percentages might not have been higher had he spent more time playing with Paul and Griffin in a situation where defenses would have had to worry about a few other players on the floor.
On a team where Griffin drew constant double teams in the post and Paul broke down defenses with dribble penetration, perimeter shooting from the supporting cast took on extra importance and Williams led the team in three point percentage, making 93 treys in 52 games.
Williams is also a better playmaker for others than he is given credit for. In fact, while Lob City was christened after the Paul trade, Williams also is quite good at penetrating and drawing the attention of a big and then putting the ball up to the rim for Griffin or DeAndre Jordan to hammer home. He averaged 3.9 assists per 36 minutes, which isn't bad considering that he was playing off the ball much of the time.
On this team, Williams was simply undersized. He would generally be described as a scoring point guard in NBA parlance, but on the Clippers he was used much more as an undersized shooting guard. He invariably played with at least one other six-footer, be it Paul or Bledsoe, which frequently forced him to defend against much bigger opponents. Never a good defender to begin with, he was terrible against two guards, and the Clippers allowed 5 more points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor this season.
The real issue here is fit. Paul is Paul, and Bledsoe emerged late in the season and in the playoffs as a very important player for the Clippers moving forward (it helps that he's young, signed and cheap). It's tricky finding enough minutes for two guards who are 6'1" or smaller -- it's beyond problematic to do so with three of them.
Future with the Clippers
Williams has a player option for one more season at his current salary of $8.5M and he has unequivocally stated that he is going to exercise that option and remain with the Clippers. There are lots of reasons that he might want to reconsider that -- he might be able to sign a better long term deal this summer at age 29 than he can next summer at 30, he'd have a chance to start with a different team, and he could see a significant reduction in his minutes with the Clippers given the importance of Bledsoe moving forward. But he's got $8.4 million reasons to stay, as he's not going to get that per year in his next deal.
If he keeps his word and exercises his option to remain under contract with the Clippers, he'll go straight onto the trading block. Unfortunately, he then finds himself in that grey area of trade assets when a player is both useful, and an expiring contract -- both of those things have trade value, but they tend to cancel each other out. For a team looking to add a starting caliber point guard, the fact that Williams will become a free agent after one season is a drawback. For a team looking to shed long term salary, they don't care if he can play. So it remains to be seen what the Clippers might be able to get for him. Ideally they could trade him to a team that needs a point guard in exchange for a starter-quality shooting guard or a big with range, but that may prove difficult.
It pains me to say it, because Williams has been a good player for the Clippers and an all-around good guy, but it would probably be best for all concerned if he declined his option and moved on. But it doesn't seem like he's going to do that.