His droopy, bulldog-like face rarely shifts into a smile. The ragged look perpetually plastered from ear to ear makes him look an ancient 24. On the court it’s more than a game, more than a business, more than a career. For Shawne Williams, the NBA is an emotional outlet, and two years ago he hit a rock bottom most would never come back from. After Indiana selected him 17th overall in the 2006 draft (ahead of Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry, and Shannon Brown), Williams, for all intensive purposes, kicked himself out of the league. Arrests mounted—first for holding marijuana, then for selling a codeine substance to which he plead guilty to a misdemeanor drug possession—and the charges piled one on top of another. The Shawne Williams book was looking less like the biography of a hopeful professional basketball player and more like a sad warning manual.
This post isn’t written to make Shawne Williams look like an angel because he’s far from it. By his own admittance, the people he hung around in his hometown of Memphis, and the decisions he made, were inexcusable. If it weren’t for an extended hand by Larry Brown—on a probable favor from Williams’ college coach, John Calipari—to try out at Charlotte’s free-agent mini cap in 2010, Shawne Williams would be a flameout. A cautionary tale. (As far as Memphis goes, he’d be a bizarro Michael Oher.) The invitation was accepted though, and Williams made Charlotte’s summer league team. The rest is borderline fairy tale history thanks to several opportunities that came knocking on Williams’ door. In 2010, two teams invited Williams to their training camp: Charlotte and New York. Instead of rationalizing a momentous decision like this one by weighing the two rosters and figuring which one gave him a better chance at re-entering the league, Williams went with New York, instantly. His decision, as told in an interview with Dime Magazine, came down to a tender connection.
“This (Madison Square Garden) is the last place my brother got to see me play before he passed; that was years back at the preseason NIT,” Williams said.
It was a fateful choice predicated on a sentimental feeling, and it’s been one that both the Knicks and Williams have viewed as beneficial. On most scouting reports, Shawne Williams is listed as a small forward, which makes sense. He’s 6’9”, athletic, and has serious range on his jumper. Due to a desperate need for front court help earlier in the season, New York played him at center, which doesn’t make sense. Williams was thoroughly abused by guys two-three inches taller and 20-40 pounds heavier (including Dwight Howard), but he never showed any displeasure, fear, or withdrawal. When the ball came to him on offense and he was open either in the corner, on the wing, or dead straight in front of the key, Williams would pull the trigger on what at the moment is the league’s third most accurate (44.7%) three-pointer. He stretched, and continues to stretch, those opposing defenses that looked to punish him on the other end.
For an offense depending on a couple one on one scorers, shooters like Williams are vital. Taking a look at Miami, a team with similar personnel, part of the reason why the Heat have performed so poorly in tight situations is their lack of dependable shooting outside of LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Mike Miller is either still feeling the after effects of his thumb injury, or just can’t handle the vice grip that is media attention. In the 25 wins he’s participated in this season Williams is shooting a ridiculous 49% from deep. In the 22 losses? 40%.
Any article with Shawne Williams as the central focus can’t paint him as a one dimensional feel good story. He’s had his fair share of on court outbursts and on the national stage is most recognized for throwing punches at the jaw of Marvin Williams. There’s certainly an immaturity about him still, one that he needs to do a better job of tempering. He’s the type of player who you want as a teammate and despise as an opponent. No in between exists. But since he’s on our side, his fearlessness certainly helps. He’s making less than $900,000 this season, pitting him alongside the likes of DeAndre Jordan as one of the league’s better bargains and making him due for a more appropriate deal this off-season. Whether New York can afford a player as versatile as Williams once he hits the open market is a question mark, but regardless, it’s looking like Shawne Williams finally has his life on the right track. It’s been good news for the Knicks, but more importantly, it’s been great for Shawne Williams.