Name: C.J. Williams
Years in NBA: Rookie
Key Stats: 5.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 18.7 minutes per game (38 games played, 17 started). Shot 44.2% from field and 28.2% from three (2.1 attempts).
2017-2018 Salary: Somewhere over $50,000 (full two-way deal, plus a week or so at pro-rated leftover MLE)
Future Contract Status: Signed for two years at the vet minimum, both years partially guaranteed
The Clippers signed C.J. to a training camp deal all the way back in September 2017. Back then, I thought he was a nice player who wouldn’t really have the “juice” to make the Clippers’ NBA roster. Williams impressed in training camp and preseason, however, and was signed to a two-way deal right before the season started. Even after that, it still didn’t seem like he was going to get that much time with the Clippers, as they had just signed Danilo Gallinari to a large contract to be their starting small forward, had Sam Dekker and Wes Johnson as veteran backups, and possessed a glut of healthy guards.
Just three weeks later, Gallinari, Pat Beverley, and Milos Teodosic were all out with long-term injuries. This had the effect of pushing Lou Williams and Austin Rivers into point guard duty, thereby freeing room at the shooting guard and small forward positions. C.J. was called up from Ontario, and made his NBA debut on November 10, logging a solid six seconds against the Thunder. In the next three games, he only played once, and that was for another miniscule 21 second stretch. The breakthrough came on November 18, when Williams got real playing time, and played well. He would play in the Clippers next 26 games, almost all of them as a rotation player, and would even start over the last 12 of those. His overall competency and steadiness of play won him the approval of Doc Rivers over the less reliable Wes Johnson and Sam Dekker, and Williams quickly became an integral part of the Clippers’ rotation in those desperate months of December and January.
Alas, Williams’ two-way contract started running out of days in the NBA (45) in mid-January, and that combined with an ankle sprain sent him back down to the G-League. Williams returned for a brief two game stint in late February and early March before the 45 days were up for good. He didn’t come back to the NBA until late March, when the G-League season was over. With Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace playing at high levels, Williams didn’t have a place in the rotation, and played only spot minutes until the last two games. Nonetheless, the Clippers had seen enough, as they signed him to a real NBA deal (covering the next two years at partial guarantees) on April 9. And thus, C.J.’s rookie season ended.
C.J. won the trust of Doc Rivers for a few simple reasons. The first is that he always showed up to play. Now, this was true of most of the 2017-2018 Clippers roster, but that did not make C.J.’s fight any less meaningful. He plays hard and does the little things on the court. Second, C.J. proved a relatively solid defensive player. He is certainly no Kawhi Leonard, yet Williams is quick enough to check smaller players on the perimeter, and stout enough to grind against bigger guys in the post and going to the rim. Third, Williams is willing to take open three-point shots (most of the time). He wasn’t all that effective at hitting them, but even his ability to take them provided more spacing than some of the other wing players on the Clippers. Finally, to put it bluntly, C.J. never screws up. He rarely turned the ball over (just 20 times in 707 minutes). He knew when to shoot, when to drive, and when to pass. He knew where to rotate on defense, and how hard to close out on shooters. C.J. is just the textbook definition of a professional basketball player, and that consistency is always valuable.
C.J. is a jack of all trades, master of none. So, while he can do a little bit of everything, he’s also not particularly great (at the NBA level) at anything. He’s a solid enough defender, though not close to lockdown. He can kind of shoot but is not really a threat that teams need to guard out there. He has some off-the-dribble skills, yet can’t be relied upon to create offense on any given possession. Williams is also already 28 years old—he’s not some young prospect that is going to discover or learn new skills, or unlock whole facets to his game. He is what he is: a steady, dependable, plug-and-play wing player who is always ready to get his name called.
Future with Clippers:
C.J.’s signing of a deal extending his time with the Clippers by two years would seem to portend well for his future with the team. And certainly, there’s a strong possibility that he’s on the roster next season. But as Lucas detailed here, it looks like the Clippers are going to face a roster crunch heading into next season (though who knows what they do this summer). Depending on who the Clippers draft, and which of their players opt into their options, and what the Clippers’ big free agents decide to do, there’s a possibility that even a player with a guaranteed or partially guaranteed roster doesn’t make the team next season.
Williams, however, seems safe enough, despite the fact that his contract is only partially guaranteed. C.J. is a perfect player to have on the end of a roster. He is a capable, competent player who doesn’t make many mistakes on the basketball court, and can play at two positions. This makes him ideal for sopping up minutes in case of injury, though he’s easily capable of a somewhat larger role if called upon. Williams is a great teammate who everyone seems to like, and who doesn’t demand minutes or a lot of shots. His minimum contract is small, thus making it easy to hold onto: it can be used as a filler for a trade or even cut later without much penalty. C.J. is just a useful player to have around, and it seems likely that he will be on the Clippers next year.