2009-10 was Shelden Williams’ best season as a pro; he shot 52.1% from the field, led all power forwards in free throw attempts per field goal attempt, and cashed in those freebies at his highest ever rate. He then hit the open market last summer and parlayed that success into…$915,852. The veteran minimum. And nary an eyelash was batted.
Maybe the plague hit Denver, but Williams actually ended up starting 32 games for the Nuggets this year before being shipped to New York. He started eight more games for the Knicks, and in the process showed that while there is a definable skill set on offer, he’s just one of those players good teams don’t have to play.
The first problem is that Williams’ performance in just 197 minutes as a Knick belies what he did earlier in the year with the Nuggets. In New York Williams essentially duplicated his exploits of 2009-10: he made shots, drew fouls, and even shot 82% from the line. Unfortunately, we have 714 minutes’ worth of footage of Shelden playing sub-replacement ball from November to February – as a Nugget he shot just 45% from the field and attempted fewer free throws per game than the previous season despite playing 4.3 more minutes per game.
And about that field goal percentage – it isn’t just that it should be higher, it’s that when you look at Williams’ shot distribution, you say, “Why in the blue hell isn’t this thing higher?” Shelden shot a combined 46.8% from the field this year despite shooting 44% on mid-range jumpers – same as, say, Carlos Arroyo, and better than noted jump-shooting big LaMarcus Aldridge. On shots at the basket, however, Shelden shot an even 50%, 63-126. That’s Jared Jeffries/Yi Jianlian/Glen Davis territory, folks, and even two of those three have moved on towards 60% (I’ll give you one guess which one has stuck around 50%).
That Shelden’s feet appear to be rooted to the floor at all times, as all of us probably told ourselves the first time we ever saw him at Duke, is the main reason he can’t finish at the rim. There’s a bit of Big Baby syndrome here (although Davis has rather craftily made himself a much better finisher) – it’s not so much an issue of coordination as it is one of height and athleticism. Williams is never going to be a leaper, and thus is never going to be a totally reliable finisher at the bucket.
Yet there may be value here; Shelden offers rugged interior defense and is at least a capable rebounder, and at 28 years old when next season starts those skills aren’t going away any time soon. He also comes cheap, as the apathy that met his 2009-10 “career year” would indicate. These are all qualities the Knicks cherish, and hey, maybe that mid-ranger inches up closer to 50% and they squeeze some value out of this guy after all. His role in the eventual Knicks championship dynasty of 2013-2016 would be “suit-wearing insurance policy,” but that may not be reason enough to cast him off in the short term.
n.b.: I am about the last person on Earth to dignify women’s basketball in any way; whenever someone like Bruce Pearl starts spouting off about how there are women who can play with the men, my eye-roll is so severe I almost lose them in the back of my head. It’s just a different game. But that said…am I crazy, or is Shelden Williams one-on-one against Candace Parker (his wife) a pretty close contest? Candace is a better shooter, probably runs faster end to end, and doesn’t give away too much size at 6’4”. Shelden, by contrast, has among the worst lateral movement in the entire league, and we’ve documented his inconsistencies at the rim. If Candace gets hot from outside, Shelden might never see the ball! You just know this game has taken place a dozen times with a week’s worth of diaper-changing on the line. Alas, we’ll never know the result. Also, is it bad that I’m making this argument yet I’m not opposed to resigning Shelden? Never mind, I think I can answer that.