“Who is he?”
It’s my girlfriend. She’s watched enough games with me to know the big names; Bledsoe, Booker, even Dudley are recognizable faces at this point. But sitting in the lower level at Talking Stick Arena the night before Valentine’s Day, she’s entranced by the big, electrifying cheerleader at the end of the bench.
“Sauce,” I tell her.
And for the rest of the night, I don’t think she was able to look away once. He puts you in a trance when you’re in the arena. Think you’re excited? Watch Alan Williams watch a basketball game, and you’ll realize you’ve never been so excited once in your life. Williams can simultaneously keep up with the action on the court, hold a conversation with a teammate, take direction from a coach, and wind up for a rehearsed high-five. The gears in his brain are engineered by equal parts basketball fan and basketball player, and he’s become a real gift for Suns fans over the past two seasons.
For those fans smart enough to look his way, he’s a show unto himself. Late last season, fans got a look into what Williams might actually be able to do on the court. Now with the Suns braintrust biting hard into the youth movement over the last thirty-something games, we’re really finding out. Except now, he’s turning heads across the entire league.
Keeping up with Alan Williams’ career has made me think about something FanSided D-League reporter Chris Reichert constantly says about his work-- that the stories of the player’s in the NBA’s minor league are the stories of the common man, and of Reichert himself. Williams’ perseverance to stay ready and his dedication to the Suns despite not receiving the minutes he might like are exemplary. His actions represent the way all of us imagine we might perform if given the opportunity to play professionally, even though so many of us lack the focus and determination to stick around long enough to actually earn a chance to play.
Except here’s the thing: Alan Williams is a good basketball player! He deserves his spot here. He’s not just a “chemist” or a bench body. Game by game, Williams is showing why he deserves to be in this league, and that he has value to the Suns.
“Does he always act like that?” Her next question. A good one. Sauce is completely out of control, jumping out of his seat before he even hears the whistle signaling stoppage in play. He slaps Eric Bledsoe on the rear after what feels like 25 straight points for the point guard-- Sauce acts more like it was a million.
“Always,” I respond.
In his first three games after the All-Star game, Williams averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, mostly on the strength of a wild 17-point, 15-rebound night against Greg Monroe and the Milwaukee Bucks last Sunday night.
He’s developing a pinpoint chemistry down low with point guard Tyler Ulis, showing off solid hands catching passes while rolling to the rim. Most impressively, he’s flipping floating layups from all corners of the paint and swatting opponents’ shots into the front row. Lots of players can rebound and tip put-backs into the hoop, but Williams’ ability to make defenders pay for giving him space down low has been key over the last two weeks:
A big guy who can create space for himself by rebounding and moving defenders away and then make quick shots from those pockets of space is extremely valuable. Despite frequently tossing up difficult shots like these, Williams has yet to shoot lower than 50 percent from the field in games in which he shoots more than three times.
The development of his defense is something to watch going forward. He lacks the speed of most dominant interior defenders, but many of his blocks still come from weak side rotations. Mostly, it’s just attentiveness and timing that land him in the right position to alter shots:
After about twenty minutes of watching Williams more than the actual game on the court, my girlfriend looked to me during one of his loudest exclamations (after a Marquese Chriss dunk).
“That’s really awesome,” she told me.
She doesn’t know how right she is.