Coming into this season, the L.A. Clippers were destined to be one of the most entertaining non-competitive teams ever. Chris Paul’s surgically precise play style replaced by the flashiness of Miloš Teodosić, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin as a guarantee of a consistent influx of posterizing dunks, and Austin Rivers and Lou Williams as volume scorers who can get hot in a second formed a lineup capable of getting the fans out of their seats on a nightly basis.
The Clippers fans weren’t particularly delusional about the potential of their team to usurp the top dogs of the West, but a fun playoff race with no pressure of CP3’s legacy was in the cards. And then, the injury bug hit. The lineup Doc Rivers sent to the floor on the opening night would jointly miss over 100 games in the next couple of months, forcing the Clippers to settle for players with profiles known only to that handful of G League aficionados. Another wasted season was mockingly laughing in the face of Steve Ballmer and the Clippers organization, but just as everyone started writing them off, a savior rose from the rubble.
Lou Williams, a 12-year NBA veteran, is currently posting his career highs all across the board – 23.3 points, 5.0 assists, 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc on over seven attempts. Everyone knew Sweet Lou could flat-out score; what we didn’t know, however, is that he has what it takes to straight up carry a team, and that he can be an excellent facilitator when he puts his mind to it.
What’s amazing is that Williams also doesn’t allow his ego to get in front of team success. His numbers suggest that he is a surefire starter on practically any team in the league, but he’s wholeheartedly accepted the sixth man role that he’s proven to thrive in over the course of his career, especially in the last season he led the Rockets’ and Lakers’ second units. In the 30 games Williams has come in off the bench this season, he racked up 30 or more points in as many games as the rest of league combined. The eight games with 30 points off the bench is tied for most since 1989-90, and Williams has only played in half a season worth of games.
The race for the Sixth Man of the Year award is getting more heated by the day, but two frontrunners have already materialized in Lou Williams and Eric Gordon. Arguments favoring Gordon usually revolve around the Rockets’ team success, in which Gordon admittedly plays a crucial role, especially in the absence of Paul and James Harden. What is often overlooked in those discussions, however, is the fact that the Clippers are, after an atrocious 5-11 start, now 22-21, and a realistic candidate for that final playoff spot, mostly thanks to Williams’ inspired performances.
Besides that, Gordon has started in 23 out of 40 Rockets games (that should balance out with the imminent return of James Harden, but the prerequisite for 6MOY is to start fewer than half of the games), and Williams has him beat in virtually all relevant statistical categories, as well as in their two direct matchups. Since 6MOY has lately been more of a “stats in a vacuum” kind of award, Williams seems like a decent bet to win that accolade for the second time in his career.
The crown of Williams’ incredible half-season stretch was definitely the 50-point outburst against the reigning champs. The supporting cast featuring C.J. Williams, Jawun Evans and Wesley Johnson in the starting lineup probably ranks among the worst to beat / blowout the Warriors in Oracle Arena, which just adds more value to Williams’ historic performance, in which he broke the franchise record for most points in a quarter while becoming the first Clipper to drop 50 on the Warriors. The performance will most likely remain the epitome of Sweet Lou’s sweet season, but who knows, maybe Williams has even more career-defining performances up his sleeve .
Even though Williams is currently the favorite to win the 6MOY award, does his career year warrant an All-Star Game nod? Factoring in his insane numbers and several stunning performances, uncharacteristically good efficiency, and a better-than-expected team record, that is absolutely the case. Will Sweet Lou finally receive the honor of stepping on the court with the crème de la crème of the NBA at the seasoned age of 31? That’s another pair of shoes, one that Lou cannot particularly influence no matter how much heart he leaves on the floor.
The popularity contest part of the All-Star voting, a.k.a. the fan voting, certainly doesn’t go in Williams’ favor right now; he definitely isn’t a standout personality in this league, aside from the fact that he successfully manages relationships with two girlfriends at the same time, a noteworthy achievement in its own right. That was reflected in the two All-Star voting returns, in which Williams wasn’t featured in the top 10 despite being objectively more deserving than, for example, Lonzo Ball and Manu Ginobili (not a knock on Manu, he definitely deserves his final All-Star appearance, but for completely different reasons).
It’s safe to say that Sweet Lou isn’t traveling back to Los Angeles in February via an unexpected spike in fan votes, but the second part of the selection process i.e. the coach picks leave a slither of hope that the Clippers will have an All-Star representative in their home arena. Judging by the results revealed so far, Steph Curry and James Harden are a lock for the starting West backcourt, with Russell Westbrook, who is nearly averaging a triple-double again, a close third. The remaining two or three guard positions will be open to a bunch of suitors – Jimmy Butler, who has been nothing short of amazing for the unexpected third seed Wolves; Klay Thompson, a crucial two-way piece on the best team on the league; Devin Booker, a young gun whose production surprises NBA fans night-in and night-out considering his age… The coaches will have to make some tough decisions, and will be hit with criticism no matter who they decide to choose.
The insane competition in the West suggests that Williams will most likely be left out of the All-Star festivities by just a slim margin. It’s crazy to think that a player averaging 23 points and five assists on 45/42/91 shooting splits might not be considered one of the best 24 players in the league, but that just speaks volumes of the level the top NBA talent is currently at.
As unthinkable as it is, the odds of All-Star participation are not in Williams’ favor at the moment. However, the possibility of coaches recognizing what he’s been doing individually and for his team isn’t entirely off the books, and that’s even without factoring in the risk of injuries to top players in approximately a month leading up to the All-Star Weekend. Either way, Lou Williams has done absolutely everything in his power (and then some) to prove that he belongs in the top crop of NBA players, so his potential All-Star Game appearance would ultimately be completely deserved and justified.