In basketball, being a go-to guy isn’t always about who takes the last-second shot. It’s the guy who regularly gets the basketball when things are getting tense in the fourth quarter; the guy expected to calm things down when teammates are getting antsy; the guy called upon to snuff out an opponent’s rally or spark a rally of his own; the guy who’s not just supposed to make shots, but make the right decisions. Bottom line: Who do you want the offense to run through when everything is on the line?
Last year, in the weeks leading up to the NBA season, I ranked the League’s go-to guys. Using the rationale that even the most balanced team has one identifiable if-all-else-fails leader that they look to in crunch time, I picked one player per squad for a final list of 30. Again, ONE PLAYER PER TEAM. Here is the list going into this season:
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MO WILLIAMS, Cleveland Cavaliers
I’d like to know if 2K Sports can keep track of this statistic: Number of online gamers who pick a certain team from year to year. I don’t live on Xbox Live by any stretch, but I’ve played enough NBA 2K10 to know the tendencies of most people who play online. (LOTS of Kobe and the Lakers.) And I’d venture to hypothesize that usage of the Cleveland Cavaliers will drop by approximately 98 percent when NBA 2K11 hits stores.
That’s what happens when you lose LeBron James and have to slide Mo Williams into the go-to guy slot.
If we were still in the heyday of Allen Iverson and Steve Francis, where shoot-first point guards were taking over the NBA, the Cavs might not be in bad shape going into this season. But this ain’t that era, and Mo Gotti ain’t Iverson. And while he may be Cleveland’s default franchise guy, he’s not Stevie Franchise. While those two were known for attacking the rim, Mo is a shooter. According to 82games.com, last season 88 percent of Mo’s field goal attempts were jump shots, and 51 percent of his made jump shots were assisted. The 6-1 gunner is at his best when he has a LeBron or even a Michael Redd alongside him, an attention-grabbing scorer whose presence allows Mo to play almost like a possession receiver in the NFL, finding pockets in the defense to get open and fire his jumper. Is Antawn Jamison good enough to be that guy drawing the defense away from Mo? Maybe a few years ago, but not now.
And if Cleveland is going to run guys like Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon on the wings, opponents will be able to stick their best perimeter defender on Williams. Anybody up for a Lakers/Cavs game where Derek Fisher and Parker loiter around the three-point line while Kobe subleases a room in Mo’s armpit? I’m good.
Unlike some players who rank below him on this list, Mo does have some experience playing a vital role on a contending team. But he rarely stepped his game up during his two playoff appearances with the Cavs, shooting under 41 percent from the field and failing to be the true No. 2 scoring option LeBron needed to carry Cleveland to a championship.
Citing Mo’s stats as a Cavalier seems pointless, though, because this year will be so much different from anything he’s experienced. His game was so altered by LeBron’s presence, and even the games LeBron missed were usually late-season meaningless games where the Cavs had already clinched their playoff position and were simply in stay-healthy mode. That said, in the games last season where LeBron didn’t play and Mo did, Mo was up-and-down: He dropped 35 points and 10 assists in one game against Chicago, and 7 points and 5 assists in another against Milwaukee. Cleveland’s record in those four games where Mo was the best player on the floor was 1-3.
If those samples were any indication, Mo will jack a lot of threes this season. He took an average of 7.5 triples when LeBron wasn’t around, while he let fly 5.4 threes per game normally.
And what about his attitude? In recent weeks, Mo has admitted he contemplated retirement after LeBron decided to leave Cleveland, and talked about how wounded he was before he and LeBron met up to iron out any hurt feelings. Since then he’s said everything you want to hear from the best player on your team — that he wants to retire in Cleveland and is committed to the team through thick and thin — but that doesn’t mean he’s completely over the LeBron departure. Will Mo’s mind and heart be 100 percent in it this year? Not only is he shouldering a new load of responsibility, he’s at the helm of a championship contender-turned-Lottery candidate.
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