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Clippers Retrospective: C.J. Williams

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Here’s a look back at C.J. Williams’ all too brief time as a Clipper.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Key Clipper Facts:

  • Signed to a training camp deal on September 27, 2017, and was converted to a two-way contract on October 14
  • Appeared in his first NBA game on November 10 (scored his first NBA basket on November 18)
  • Played in 38 games for the Clippers, starting in 17 of them
  • Averaged 5.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 0.8 steals in 18.6 minutes per game, shooting 44.2% from the field and 28.2% from three
  • Signed a multi-year, non-guaranteed deal with Clippers on April 9, 2018, but was waived on July 27
  • Was signed by the Timberwolves to a two-way deal on July 31

Expectations:

When C.J. Williams was signed to his training camp deal, I don’t think many people pegged him as a good bet to play meaningful minutes for the LA Clippers in the 2017-2018 season. Even after his contract was turned into two-way deal, it seemed likely that he would spend most of his time in the G-League, and would only be brought up here and there for spot minutes in case of injuries. Expectations for Williams were therefore very low.

Reality:

C.J. ended up having an imprint on the Clippers’ season, playing in nearly half their games and contributing actual minutes in most of those. This impact wasn’t apparent at first, as he didn’t appear in a game until mid-November, and didn’t get real minutes until over a week later. However, once he made it into Doc Rivers’ rotation, he stuck there for most of the rest of his time with the team.

Williams really stepped up in December, when he was part of the unheralded group of rookies (along with Jamil Wilson, Jawun Evans, and Sindarius Thornwell) who kept the Clippers afloat while most of their established players were injured. Nearly half of his minutes (341 of 707) took place in this month, with the Clippers depending heavily on his steady play amidst all the chaos.

Steadiness is really the word that sums up C.J. He’s not flashy—he won’t ever wow viewers when playing in the NBA. But you know what you’re going to get from him whenever he steps on the court: solid defense, some floor-stretching, and a willingness to do the little things. C.J.’s ability to make a positive impact on the court even without scoring endeared him to Doc Rivers and the organization in general, earning him increasing time as the season went along. Unfortunately, right when he was hitting his stride in early January, his time in the NBA began to wind down, and the Clippers were forced to send him back to the G-League.

C.J. didn’t return to the Clippers for an extended stretch until after the end of the G-League season in March, when the two-way players were allowed to come up to the NBA without a time limit. By this time, the Clippers were in desperation mode, and C.J. didn’t play much in the games that mattered. The Clippers missed the playoffs by a few games, and some Clippers’ fans were convinced that the absence of Williams (and fellow two-way player Ty Wallace) in February and March was one of the reasons the Clippers sputtered down the stretch. And, honestly, it’s hard to argue that line of thought.

C.J. isn’t a great NBA player, but he was a solid contributor for the Clippers when the team needed him, and he would have given them better minutes than Wes Johnson or Sam Dekker for those weeks he was playing in Ontario. Clippers’ fans had gone from having no expectations of Williams at the start of the season to lamenting his absence in key games by the end of it. If that’s not a sign of how well C.J. played, then I don’t know what is.

Legacy:

I’m not sure if C.J. will have a legacy with the Clippers in the traditional sense. For all the goodwill he earned, he only played 38 games with the team, and won’t be the first person people think of when they think of the 2017-2018 Clippers. If he’s thought of at all, it will be probably be as part of that group of rookies who almost saved the Clippers season, not as an individual player. Last year’s Clippers team wasn’t all that talented, but they showed up almost every game, fought hard, and won the admiration of fans and opponents with their tough play. C.J. is a perfect representation of that season.

C.J. will also leave behind a different kind of legacy. He’s the type of professional that the new Clippers’ organization is all about. Hard-working, a locker room standout, and a generous player off the court, Williams is exactly what the Clips profess to stand for in 2018. Additionally, the Clippers are putting greater investments into scouting and player development, and CJ, an “elderly” G-League player who few NBA fans had ever heard of before the Clippers signed him, was an early sign of fruit in that realm. If the Clippers are to make the playoffs or remain relevant in a resurgent Lakers world, they will need more diamond in the rough success stories like C.J. Expect to see more players like him hit the Clippers’ pipeline over the next few years.

Finally, the Clippers’ discovery of Williams and their difficulties with getting more time for him in the NBA could help lead to improvements of the two-way system. As it stands, while two-way deals are an improvement over regular G-League deals, they’re still far from ideal. The Clippers’ reliance on two-way players showed how useful the deals could be, but also the weaknesses of the 45 day limit in the NBA. Maybe those deals will be changed in future years to allow breakout players like C.J. more time to play in the NBA without worrying about running out of time.

If there’s one moment that Clippers’ fans will probably remember of C.J.’s time with the team, it will probably be his game-winning shot against the Hawks in January (right before he went back down to the G-League). It was one of the best moments of an entertaining and surprisingly competitive season, and C.J. will forever have a brief place in Clippers’ lore because of it.

While C.J. is no longer with the Clippers, I think it’s fair to say Clippers’ fans will probably root for him the rest of his NBA career. Hopefully he can secure a regular NBA contract at some point. He deserves one.