Lou Williams: Is He Any Good?

Lou Williams, who may just end up being the last prep-to-pro from the old era left at the rate he’s going, was drafted out of high school in 2005 and immediately banished to obscurity; he’s been a starter for only 95 of his 808 career NBA games.

But the 31-year-old journeyman, playing for his fifth team in the past four years, is making an incredibly strong case for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 20 points per game off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers.

So this leads us to a simple question.

Is Lou Williams a starter in a benchwarmer’s body, or is he just a volume scorer who lacks the skills to be anything other than a microwave off the bench?

Put another way, this one’s confirmed if we can establish statistically that Williams is comparable to a quality starting NBA combo guard.

The Counting Stats

Williams is a classic lousy shot selection guy; he’s shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 34.8 from three in his career.

Even Mike D’Antoni couldn’t teach Lou how to basketball; with the Rockets last year, Williams shot 38.6 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent beyond the arc, part of why Houston was monumentally better (5 points per 100 possessions) with him off the floor. His shooting was atrocious.

But Williams averaged 14.9 points a game off the bench for the Rockets last year; if you’re the sort who doesn’t care how many shots a guy has to miss to get them, that’s a lot of points for a sixth man.

20 a game this year is the same sort of impressive number. Williams has improved his shooting to 45.2 percent (the second-best clip of his career) from the field and 40 percent (by far his best year) from three. Give a guy with those kinds of averages 15 shots and six threes a game and boom, 20 points.

And just for fun, he’s also established a career-best from the line, hitting 88.6 percent of his 4.7 attempts per game.

He’s even at nearly five assists, another career best.

The Advanced Stats

OK, so if it walks like a starter and puts up counting stats like a starter, it’s a starter, right? Maybe even an All-Star at 20 a game in 30.6 minutes.

Well…first you have to consider that he can’t play a lick of defense. A 0.3 Defensive Win Shares (against 2.1 on offense), 113 Defensive Rating (getting into “couldn’t guard my dead grandmother” territory), and minus-3.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus…well, that defense is great in the All-Star Game…but not if you’re trying to make it to the All-Star Game.

But OK, .146 WS/48 is not just acceptable but pretty good for a starter; the Mendoza Line on that is usually more like .100.

Getting back to when he has the ball, Williams has a PER of 21.2, a True Shooting of .593, and an Offensive BPM of 4.7.

That last is good for ninth in the entire league. The 2.1 Offensive Win Shares is 18th. For a bench guy on a bad team, even.

The Team Context

Williams is backing up Austin Rivers because nepotism beats winning basketball every day and twice on Sunday.

How bad is Rivers the Younger? 12.2 PER, 0.4 Offensive Win Shares, .043 WS/48, 0.2 OBPM, minus-2.1 DBPM, and zero VORP; in other words, numbers that any decent point guard you could fish out of the G-League would be expected to match.

Rivers is a better defender the same way if your only two choices are a well-done steak or an actual shoe, you’d probably eat the steak. But you’d at least think about the shoe and ask yourself questions.

Offensively, Williams is a hunk of perfectly rare prime rib. Rivers is that same well-done footwear beef.

So OK, we’ve discovered that Lou Williams should be starting for the Clippers. But the Clippers are terrible. So let’s try one more, shall we?

The League Context

Take every guard in the league qualified for the scoring title and rank them by WS/48. Williams is 12th. In the entire NBA. Higher than Victor Oladipo, Klay Thompson, and Russell Westbrook.

Rivers is 99th of the 131 guys on the list.

Admittedly it’s just one stat, and there are some wonky outliers (Shabazz Napier is fifth and Spencer Dinwiddie is 11th), but if you’re the 12th best in the NBA at an omnibus advanced stat, that pretty much suggests that if you’re not a starter, you’re the Sixth Man of the Year.

THE VERDICT!

20 points a game. In the top 20 in the entire league in a few key advanced stats. Better by miles than the guy starting in front of him on his own team.

Is Lou Williams good? You bet he is, and he should be starting somewhere. Maybe in LA if the Clips have the sense to fire a guy who insists on starting one of the worst players in the league just because it’s his son.

This one’s Confirmed.