Lou Williams was just recognized for his terrific play by the NBA, winning the Western Conference Player of the Week Award for December 25-December 31. He is also acknowledged as one of the favorites to win the 6th Man of the Year award, and as one of the best scorers off the bench in the NBA. Those are nice accolades, but Lou is worthy of more. Lou Williams, this year, is deserving of a berth in the All Star Game in February. Don’t believe me? The numbers back that opinion up.
Here are the stats for some of the best small, scoring guards in the NBA today next to Lou Williams’ numbers. These are guards that resemble Lou Williams physically and do some of the same things he does. All but Lou are considered “stars”, and at least one will get MVP votes at the end of this season.
Kemba Walker: 21.4 points, 5.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.1 turnovers per game in 34.7 minutes on 41.9/34.1/84.1 shooting, with a true shooting of 54.9%
CJ McCollum: 21.3 points, 3.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.1 turnovers per game in 36.8 minutes on 43.8/41.3/87.2 shooting, with a true shooting of 53.8%
Damian Lillard: 25.2 points, 6.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 turnovers per game in 36.9 minutes on 42.1/35.9/92.5 shooting, with a true shooting of 57%
Kyrie Irving: 24.8 points, 4.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.4 turnovers per game in 32.4 minutes on 48.9/40.4/89.4 shooting, with a true shooting of 60.4%
Sweet Lou: 21.7 points, 4.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.7 turnovers per game in 31.3 minutes on 44.7/40.6/89.8 shooting, with a true shooting of 60.5%
The only player there with a real case for being statistically better than Lou this season is Kyrie, and even he isn’t night and day better—much of their statline is virtually identical. I’m not sure any of those players outside of Kyrie will actually make the All Star game, but they are all at least “in the consideration”, and I haven’t seen any outlets list Lou as such a contender. He’s the most efficient scorer of the group just ahead of Kyrie, and scores more points per minute on the court than all but Kyrie. The only area where he really trails is rebounding, and rebounding just isn’t that important for combo guards of Lou’s ilk. The only player in the set even close to a plus defender is Kemba, and while Lou might be the worst defensive player of the bunch, the difference between him and Lillard or McCollum isn’t nearly enough to make up the massive gap in scoring efficiency. If those guys deserve All Star consideration, Lou sure as hell does too. And if you think Kyrie Irving is an MVP candidate, you’d better believe Lou should be in the All Star game, as the only thing differentiating them is a couple more points per game for Kyrie. But it’s tough to get people to change how they think about players— they have dug-in opinions, especially on veterans like Lou.
When people think of Lou Williams, they think of a volume scorer, a guy with a shoot first mentality. And there’s no denying that Lou likes to get his shots up. At the same time, he’s a terrific passer and playmaker, and has developed a great connection with several Clippers’ big men on pick and rolls. He is more than willing to make the extra pass, and can at times even be too unselfish, passing up semi-open looks to give weaker offensive players the ball. He’s averaging almost 5 assists a game, and is doing so without actually bringing the ball up the court much of the time. He’s no Milos Teodosic as a passer, but that aspect of his game is certainly underrated by most people.
Statistics aren’t everything, of course. Kemba and Dame are the marquee players of their franchise. They are the guys who are on billboards, who are publicized the most, and who have the most fans. Lou is harmed there because he just joined the Clippers this summer, but he seems to be a beloved teammate, and has done a lot of work in the community already as well. In the Clips game against the Hornets on Sunday, the Clippers had a miserable 2nd quarter, and went to halftime with the momentum against them. After the game, which the Clippers won largely behind Lou’s 40 points, reports came out that Lou spoke out at halftime, and galvanized the team going into the 3rd quarter. While everyone knew Lou was a great scorer, I’m not sure many people thought he would bring a ton of leadership to the Clippers. He has.
Context matters in All Star consideration too. But context, and team situation, help Lou Williams even more than stats probably do. After all, Dame and CJ have each other. Kyrie Irving has been playing on a Celtics team that has had relatively good health, with a big man in Al Horford who complements his game perfectly. The Clippers have been destroyed by injuries, and Lou’s stellar play is what has enabled them to stay afloat in the tough Western Conference. He’s seen a lot of minutes with 2nd round rookies, and two-way rookies, and other young NBA players. And while all those players have done well, Lou Williams has been the primary creator on offense most of the time he’s been on the court this season. The only comparative situation in the group is Kemba, who has a mediocre (at best) supporting cast in Charlotte, but Lou’s efficiency blows Kemba’s out of the water. The Clippers would be one of the worst teams in the NBA if it weren’t for Lou Williams.
So what’s preventing Lou Williams from being a widely considered contender for an All Star spot? It can’t be the Clippers mediocre record, as every season there are All Stars from non-playoff teams. Is it that he’s a score-first guard? Nah, that can’t be it: those players have taken over the NBA in recent years. Clippers bias? Probably not, since both Blake and DJ have at least gotten some mention as All Star candidates. The reason behind the lack of discussion around Lou probably centers around two things: his status as a reserve, and his not being a “big name”. Much of his early career was spent on nondescript teams. He came into the NBA at the end of the Iverson era in Philly, and was there for years as part of their mediocrity after AI. He was then on the boring Hawks teams of the early 2010’s, and the Raptors before they became a true Eastern Conference power. That lack of recognition has dogged Lou for years. While this is by far the best year of his career, he’s been a good player for many seasons, and has always been a more effective scorer than similar guys who he’s lumped in with, like Nick Young and Jamal Crawford. As for being a reserve, there should be no stigma to coming off the bench, and Lou is getting the minutes and role usually given to starters anyway. His scoring average this season is also the highest of any reserve in the NBA since the 1989-1990 season— he’s having one of the best seasons off the bench of anyone in NBA history.
It’s impossible to deny how good Lou Williams has been this season. He’s been the Clippers’ best scorer (and overall player) with Blake Griffin sidelined, and his ability to create shots was crucial for a Clippers team that had few offensive options. He has provided leadership, scoring, and playmaking. Oh, and have I forgotten to mention he’s been clutch? Add all that up with his ridiculously efficient scoring, and Lou has the resume of an All Star. Whether he gets there or not is immaterial. But he should absolutely be in the conversation of reasonable candidates, and his name needs to start being mentioned on par with some of those other guards. Give Sweet Lou the credit he is due. He has earned it time and time again.