Phoenix Suns center Alan Williams has the best nickname on the team. Big Sauce has always been overlooked as an NBA prospect, but now he has forged a chance to play long-term for his hometown team. He talks of the Suns as 'we' and makes you think he's got a long NBA career ahead of him.
After scoring another double-double in as many days for the Suns last weekend, this time on a national stage of ESPN2 against the Boston Celtics in Las Vegas Summer League this week. The Suns beat the Celtics behind Devin Booker's trash-talking virtuoso performance while the rest of the Suns young lineup exceeded their own expectations.
Williams (23) is the oldest starter among the Suns top lineup in Summer League this year, behind Dragan Bender (18) Marquese Chriss (just turned 19 on July 2), Devin Booker (19) and Tyler Ulis (20). But Williams is just a year out of college himself, and has a lot of fond memories.
"I love this, brother," Williams said after the game. "I love Thomas and Mack. I knew once we got here, the lights would be on. Prime time game. Great players on both sides. It was just a fun game all around to go out there and play."
Williams won two state titles at North High School in Phoenix and played for UC-Santa Barbara from 2011-2015, where he finished as the Gauchos all-time leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. As a senior, he led the nation in rebounding with 11.8 per game in 2014-15.
But Williams is only 6'8", a death knell for a pure post player. He does not have any range beyond the paint, and doesn't have the wheels to defend the perimeter on the other end. So he went to a small college and then un-drafted in 2015 despite all those career successes.
On the plus side, Williams squeezes the very most out of his size and skill set. On offense, he's shown a feathery touch around the rim, and uses his girth to box out other post players for putbacks. On defense, he defends the rim with effort and boxes out for rebounds when they miss.
And more than anything, he brings energy to the game that lifts others.
"Energy is a very important thing," Williams said. "Coach needs me to do it, and I'm doing it. The team has been really great, energy-wise. Our bench, especially."
In an otherwise quiet-ish atmosphere that is known as Summer League, the Summer Suns games stood out this week as some of the those entertaining and highly contested. Scouts, beat writers and fans all noticed that the Suns games were the most fun to watch, especially when Devin Booker was looking like a man among boys.
Here's a comment by SI.com's Andrew Sharp about the team as a whole.
Of course, the one guy he didn't mention was Alan Williams, but the team knows that they go as Alan Williams goes. Williams is content doing his part to make sure the Suns stayed engaged no matter who was on the floor.
"I was really ready mentally this year to go out and play a specific role," Williams says. "I initially didn't know what my role was last year (in SL for the Rockets), but knowing and trying to excel in it this year so I can help this team be as great as it can possibly be."
Make no mistake, Williams was quite good in Summer League last year for the Rockets. He led the entire LVSL in rebounding with 11.8 per game last year (Alex Len was 4th with 9.8). He was also 5th in scoring with a whopping 20.8 points per game, outplaying bally-hooed Montrezl Harrell on his own team in the process.
Here he is scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in an SL game in 2015.
But the Rockets were stacked at forward with Harrell, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, so Williams went all the way over to China to play a season before coming back home to the Suns to sign on for a 10-day contract that quickly became a full contract.
Here's one of Williams best games for the real, live Suns this spring.
Asked how he approaches this summer compared to last, he chuckles.
"Still fighting for a job," he said. "It's fun. It's an opportunity to compete, to better myself and to help my team. I just want to continue to prove my value to the team and go out there and win basketball games."
The Suns have a team option on his 2016-17 season, with a guarantee date of September 1. If he's still on the roster on September 1, Williams full contract at league minimum is guaranteed.
"Having a little NBA experience, professional experience for a whole year," he said. "Your mentality is way different here (this year) in Summer League because you know how to be a professional. You know what it takes, night in and night out, to go out there and compete at a high level."
Williams is tops in the Summer League again this year in rebounding (11.3 per game) and third on the Summer Suns in scoring (13.0), behind Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. I tried to find a highlight reel of any of Williams' games in the past week, but youtubers are more interested in the others in the Suns lineup than they are of Williams. Ah well.
Even though he's still just 23 himself, and trying to earn a guaranteed paycheck, he embraces his role on the team as a leader and mentor to his Teen Tower phenoms Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender.
"I'm talking to Quese and Dragan as much as I possibly can, my two front line guys," he said of the rookies. "I think our front office staff did a tremendous job this year in the draft. You've seen that from Tyler, Dragan and Marquese. They can all 'go'. And you see glimpses of how great they can really be with time, with the right, proper coaching."
Big Sauce has another big skill in his arsenal: flattening opposing guards on picks. He loves to set hard screens.
"I'm pretty sure they're all legal too," he said. "I want to be an enforcer, especially when guys are pressuring Tyler or Book like that, you've got to have guy set good, solid, legal screens. I got a big body so I might as well use it. It's on the defender, the big, to yell out the screen to the guard. Good luck."
Williams sums it up succinctly when talking about how Booker feels empowered to trash talk because he's got a whole team full of guys to back him up. Against the Blazers last week, Tyler Ulis was the first to jump in, followed quickly by all of Bender, Chriss and Williams.
"Nobody messes with the family," Williams said.
Williams is a breath of fresh air, and now he's got the weight of the Phoenix PD behind him.
So maybe the Suns will find room on their roster for Big Sauce behind Chriss, Bender, Dudley, Alex Len and Tyson Chandler.
The hometown boy would make his dreams come true if that happened.