Five trades for Derrick Williams

Struggling in Minnesota, former No. 2 pick could start over elsewhere

Updated: December 16, 2012, 1:04 PM ET
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN Insider
Derrick WilliamsGreg Smith/US PresswireMinnesota might want to ship out Derrick Williams.

In Derrick Williams' final win in a terrific two-year career at the University of Arizona -- a thrilling 93-77 defeat of defending champion Duke in the Sweet 16 -- the 6-foot-8 forward tallied 32 points and 13 rebounds and went 5-for-6 from 3-point range.

It was one of the more impressive individual performances the NCAA tournament had witnessed in years.

With a little more than eight minutes to go, Williams delivered one of the tourney's signature plays. After receiving a pass at the top of the key, he pump-faked Miles Plumlee, took two dribbles toward the rim and powered home a thunderous right-handed slam.

Wildcats fans rose to their feet. TBS went to commercial. And right then and there, on March 24, 2011, on the grand stage, Williams' NBA draft stock skyrocketed.

He looked like an athlete. A leader. A winner. At worst, a solid third or fourth option on a playoff-caliber NBA team.

"He is better than anyone we've played this season," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told The Washington Post after the game.

Three months later, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Arizona's star sophomore with the No. 2 pick of the 2011 NBA draft. It was the highest pick in Wolves history.

What went wrong?

The big question with Williams heading into the draft, and really the only huge concern, was what position he would play at the next level. He was an active, hard-nosed rebounder at the college level (averaging 8.3 rpg as a sophomore), but he lacked ideal height for an NBA power forward.

Those worries were cast aside by the fact that he appeared to have the physical makeup and athleticism needed to play the 3, if necessary. He shot 56.8 percent from behind the arc in his final season in Tucson, which was more in line with the role of small forward. It looked as if, either way, he had what it took to be a good, solid pro.

But when the season started, the issues quickly became apparent. First and foremost, he faced the enormous expectations that came with being the No. 2 pick. Adding to the challenge was Minnesota's depth at the two forward spots (Love, Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster and Anthony Tolliver) and the pressure to beat those guys out while playing for Rick Adelman, a coach known for relying on veterans over young players throughout his career.

The result wasn't what the Wolves envisioned. Williams failed to settle into a role, let alone thrive in one.

As Love's backup, he looked undersized at the 4 and didn't have the impact on the glass many expected. When tasked with guarding quicker players, his lack of lateral quickness showed. Synergy Sports Technology reveals that Williams encountered the most difficulty as a rookie defending against the spot-up, isolation and pick-and-roll.

Making matters worse was his inefficiency as a scorer, an area thought to be a can't-miss part of his game. He finished the season shooting 41.2 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from 3.

Where we're at

Amid constant trade talk, Williams trimmed down in the offseason with the idea that he could transition to the small forward spot because Beasley, Johnson, Webster, Randolph and Tolliver didn't look to have much of a future in Minnesota.

It's at the 3 where I believe Williams is best suited because of his preference for the perimeter shot, his ability to run the floor and his lack of ideal size at power forward. To stick there, though, he'll need to be able to show that he can defend and knock down the perimeter J.

Until the Wolves inked Andrei Kirilenko to a two-year deal, it looked as if Williams would get that chance in Minnesota. The Kirilenko signing changed all that.

If you think about it, that move probably wouldn't have been made if the Wolves truly believed in Williams' abilities at the 3, if they felt they had a future star on their hands. It showed instead that, in the team's push for the playoffs this season, the 2011 No. 2 pick was going to be relegated to bench duty.

We can see that in the 11 games since Love has been back on the court. In that span, Williams has yet to play more than 16 minutes in a game and has recorded four DNP-CDs.

Clearly, Williams isn't in Minnesota's long-term plans. With the Wolves very much in the playoff picture this season, one has to believe they will be looking to move him for a player or two who can serve more of a role on the team.

ESPN's Marc Stein wrote Friday that Williams is one of the trade targets commonly being mentioned around the league, along with teammates Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea. With today being regarded as the opening day of trade season in the NBA, as Stein puts it -- Dec. 15 is the first day players who signed new contracts in July can be dealt -- we have to believe there's a good chance Williams will land on a new team in the not-too-distant future.

The big question is how much trade value Williams has. He is due to earn a little less than $5 million this season and right around $5.3 million in 2013-14 but has no guarantees beyond that.

Then there's the other big issue: Who wants him? Considering that Williams is barely even in Minnesota's rotation, it's somewhat doubtful that a contender will trade anything of real value to bring on such an unproven player for a playoff run.

What it probably will come down to is this:

A) A noncontender with many tradable pieces that is looking to buy low on Williams in hopes of striking gold.
B) A contender that is willing to roll the dice on Williams, exchanging an expiring contract and probably a low first-round pick or another young prospect or two for Williams and the risk associated with his guaranteed contract for next season.

After carefully looking things over, here are five such scenarios:

Joe Kaiser

Fantasy, Insider