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2019-20 Clippers Report Card: Lou Williams

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The best regular-season sixth man of his generation was exposed in the playoffs yet again.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Five Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Key information:

Name: Lou Williams

Age: 34

Years in NBA: 15

Key stats: Williams played in 65 regular-season games and started eight. He averaged 18.2 points and 5.6 assists in 28.7 minutes per game. During the playoffs, Williams recorded 12.8 points and 4.2 assists in 26.2 minutes per game.

Future contract status: Williams is entering the final season of a three-year, $24 million extension and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Summary:

The Clippers super sub had another excellent regular season, leading the team in minutes and assists and finishing second in points to Kawhi Leonard. Williams was particular effective at the start of the season while Paul George was still recovering from his offseason surgeries. The sixth man’s highest-scoring months of the season were October, November, and January, when George only played three games because of a hamstring injury.

In many ways, Williams appeared to defy age in his third season with the Clippers. He still put on a master class in getting to his spots, whether that was rising up for a jump shot going left or gliding to the basket by going right. His chemistry with Montrezl Harrell in the second unit continued to shine, but he also proved a worthy complement to Kawhi Leonard as a good ball handler and shooter.

Once again, however, the postseason shined a light on some of Williams’ weaknesses, and he was markedly less efficient as the playoffs wore on. And no discussion of Williams’ season would be complete without acknowledging his trip to Magic City while outside of the bubble, which led to a 10-day quarantine and forced him to miss the first two seeding games and delay his ramp up into game shape. It led to a series of jokes (and he even trademarked Lemon Pepper Lou), and was a bad look, especially after the Clippers self-destructed on the court.

Strengths:

Williams is a great playmaker. Although he seems to have more fame as a scorer, his ability to create is the best skill he brings to the Clippers. He assisted on 29.8 percent of his teammates’ baskets when he was on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, and was the truest point guard the Clippers had on their roster, despite coming off the bench.

His shooting efficiency slipped as the season wore on, but he was still an effective scorer throughout the year, mostly because of his elite ability to draw fouls. Combine that with 86.3 percent shooting from the free-throw line, and Williams scored at a high clip despite not shooting particularly well from any area of the floor.

Despite his stature, and professed aversion to working out, Williams is a very durable player. He only missed seven games, three of those due to injury. His consistency was necessary for a Clippers team that was constantly missing players for one reason or another.

Weaknesses:

In order to be effective, Williams has to have the ball. He doesn’t come off screens frequently and spot ups only accounted for 11 percent of his total offensive possessions, per NBA.com. In previous seasons, it was fine for Williams to have high usage, but there were several other Clippers this season who were more efficient, thus diminishing Williams’ overall utility. Williams was also a bit too careless with the ball in 2019-20, posting the highest turnover percentage (13.2) of his career. The Clippers were 11.8 points and 8.1 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Williams on the court in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively, but they were worse on offense with him last year.

If Williams isn’t giving value on offense, he isn’t giving value at all. He is consistently a minus defender, both due to his sleight build and because of his general inattentiveness on that end of the floor. Even a positive statistic like his low foul rate is an indicator of his overall lack of effort as a defender. The Clippers did him no favor with their switching, as that allowed opposing players to target him on that end of the floor. In total, the team was 4.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense without Williams in the game.

Williams also continued a career-long trend of regressing in the postseason. He couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from 3-point range, and he once again was unable to draw fouls at the same rate as during the regular season. Now that he’s 34 years old, it’s probably time to accept that Williams is a fundamentally different player in the regular season versus the playoffs.

Future with the Clippers:

A year ago, Williams was part of the heart and soul of this team, but his place on the Clippers feels a lot less secure now. If he can’t be relied upon in the postseason, then it becomes a lot more enticing for the Clippers to dangle his expiring contract as a trade piece to find a defensive-minded player who fits more cleanly around Leonard and George.

The chatter around the team is also that they were embarrassed by Williams’ actions when he was on an excused absence from the bubble. He had the gall to call out the team’s chemistry, a comment that rang hollow after he had jeopardized his teammates’ safety. If the Clippers are successful in upgrading their point guard position, then it would be wholly unsurprising to see Williams on his way out.

Overall grade: C+

The body of work in the regular season (Williams was a sixth man of the year finalist, after all) keeps Williams’ grade above average despite his bubble failures.