Name: Lou Williams
Years in NBA: 14
Position: Shooting guard/Point guard
Key Stats: In regular season, played in 26.6 minutes per game across 75 games, averaging 20 points, 3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 0.8 steals per game. Shooting splits of 42.5/36.1/87.6 for a TS% of 55.4
In the playoffs, averaged 21.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists in 29.3 minutes per game, shooting 43.3/33.3/82.9 for a TS% of 53.3
2018-2019 Salary: $8,000,000
Future Contract Status: Finished first year of 3 year, $24,000,000 extension, with the final year guaranteed for only $1,500,000
Awards: Finalist for NBA Sixth Man of the Year, probable winner; became all-time leader in points scored off the bench
I’ve already spilled a ton of virtual ink about Lou Williams, so I don’t necessarily have too much to add. Suffice to say, Lou Williams had an argument for being the most important Clipper this season (rivaling only Danilo Gallinari) due to the boost he gave to the Clippers’ offense. With Lou on the court, by Net Rating, the Clippers had one of the best offenses in the NBA. When he sat, their offense sunk to among the worst in the league. His ability to create looks for himself as well as for others was essential to the Clippers’ attack – they don’t make the playoffs, or even get close, without Lou Williams.
Lou once again had a very healthy season for a 32 year old in his 14th season in the NBA. Lou missed only seven games all season, and a couple of those were due to rest. His minutes were curtailed a bit by Doc Rivers, but Lou was essentially available whenever the Clippers needed him, which was often. He upped his game even further in the playoffs, being the driving force behind the Clippers’ epic comeback win in Game 2, and forcing the Warriors to go to extreme lengths to defend him the rest of the series. Simply put, he had a splendid season.
Lou’s greatest strength as an NBA player is simple: he’s one of the best scorers in the league. Ultimately, basketball still comes down to who can score the most points, so having a premier bucket-getter is crucial. Lou is certainly one of those. He can score in almost any way imaginable – behind the three-point line, in the midrange, around the basket, and by getting the foul line. In an era increasingly focused on scoring from the most efficient spots on the floor, Lou is an efficient scorer who makes difficult, seemingly inefficient shots. His incredible ability to float while jumping horizontally allows him to score even when defenders are draped all over him. He has every trick in the book to shake defenders and score around the basket, utilizing a variety of scoop shots and layups. Most importantly, Lou is one of the smartest players in the NBA at drawing fouls, and he racks up trips to the free throw line, especially against bad defenses. The number of fouls he forces both generate free points and get opponents into foul trouble, a double-edged sword. I hate the term, but it really does fit Lou: he’s a “professional scorer”.
Although Lou’s scoring is what makes him a highly useful NBA player, his playmaking is what drives his success as one of the best reserves in NBA history. Once thought of as primarily a gunner, Lou has developed into a truly gifted passer who can dominate a game through playmaking as well as scoring. In addition to a career high in points per 100 possessions, Lou put up easily career best marks in assists as well. His pick and roll chemistry with Montrezl Harrell was special to watch, and they were able to generate points efficiently against almost every defense in the league. When double-teamed, Lou has no qualms about passing out to set up 4v3s or get the defense scrambling. While not an extraordinary passer, Lou was the lead ball-handler and playmaker on a top 10 offense this year, showing his prowess in non-scoring areas.
Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell might have been the heart and soul of the Clippers this season with their hustle and energy, but don’t overlook Lou’s contributions to the attitude and spirit of the Clippers. Lou is a top 50 NBA player, and the second best player on the Clippers, and he came off the bench all season while playing under 27 minutes per game. There were no complaints about role, minutes, or shots – Lou was content, because he was thriving and so was the team. He was also one of the biggest perpetuators of the Clippers’ “never say die” attitude, being the ignition to so many of the Clippers’ massive comeback wins. Lou never stops playing, or scoring, and that was massively important to this team. Finally, despite some doubts about being a negative influence earlier in his career due to his partying ways, Lou was an essential leader on the 2019 Clippers. He was a calming voice for Harrell and Beverley when they got too riled up, a veteran who everyone (in the NBA) respects, and a mentor for the Clippers’ young guys. Lou was invaluable both on the court and off.
If Lou is a masterful offensive player, his defense leaves a lot to be desired. At 6’1 and 175 pounds, Lou is a slight figure in a league of monstrous proportions and jaw-dropping athleticism. He’s too small to bang with larger guys in the post or on dribble-drives, and can get easily pushed off of spots. Lou does normally know where to be on the court, and usually provides some effort, but he just doesn’t have the size, athleticism (anymore), or instincts to be anything but a negative defender. Most games, he’s just a minus there rather than someone teams aggressively go after, but against certain opponents he was ruthlessly targeted on that end. It is what it is.
While Lou is more than a gunner, he does like to shoot, and sometimes that has cost the Clippers games. This isn’t a weakness particular to Lou – it’s true of any high usage player who’s relied on for their offense game-in, game-out. However, Lou’s efficiency did drop some this year, as he took fewer threes and made less of his shots in general. It’s something to look out for as Lou ages into his mid-30s: will these off nights become more common? This season, they were at an easily acceptable level because of how much he provided on most nights, but as it becomes harder for Lou to get separation in years to come, he might have to dial back his usage a bit on poor shooting nights, lest he shoot his team out too frequently.
Future with Clippers
Lou Williams’ future with the Clippers, both immediate and long-term, is somewhat up-in-the-air for a player of his importance. His incredible contract and exceptional play make him a very valuable trade chip, and he might have to be included in a deal to get the Clippers a star player such as Anthony Davis. If the Clippers fail to land a star in free agency, a rebuild might be upon the Clippers, like it or not, and Lou could get traded for assets at the deadline. Still, if the Clippers are to build a contender around a Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard, Lou is the perfect player to have in a support role. I would guess he’s around for at least the next couple years if the Clippers’ plans come to fruition. Clippers’ fans would love to see him remain with the team for the rest of his career, and there’s a chance it could happen.
Overall Season Grade: A+
Lou Williams followed up one of the best seasons of all time by a bench player with a season that was just as special, if slightly different statistically. He was perhaps the most impactful player on the Clippers, powering their offense all year with his scoring wizardry and underrated playmaking. And he’s doing it all for cheap! Most people didn’t think Lou could repeat his record-setting 2017-2018 campaign, but he proved all the doubters wrong, much like the Clippers did as a whole. The Clippers have seen a historic run from Lou over the past two years, and it’s been magical to watch.