By FRANK HUGHES
SEATTLE – When Seattle SuperSonics coach Paul Westphal talked with his players about their roles last week, one of the most explicit talks was with Shammond Williams.
Williams, after all, was going to have to take the largest step back, from being a regular contributor in the preseason to being strictly the backup to Gary Payton, which sometimes means languishing on the bench altogether.
But the beauty of the NBA is that occasionally opportunities come along that are unexpected.
Williams’ opportunity came when teammate Brent Barry was injured during warmups before Tuesday’s season opener.
Barry isn’t in danger of becoming roundball’s Wally Pipp – the baseball player who sat out a game with a headache and was replaced fulltime by legendary ironman Lou Gehrig – but in two games, Williams is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 17 points. This, from a guy who averaged 5.2 points a year ago.
In addition, Williams is shooting 63.6 percent from 3-point range. He made four of six 3-pointers in the loss to Vancouver, then banged in another three of five in the victory over Denver Wednesday night.
“I’m just knocking down shots,” said Williams, who looks to continue his hot hand when Seattle hosts Portland tonight.
“I don’t get a lot of shots, so I am just capitalizing when I get them. I have been blessed to be a good shooter. Shots are easy for me because I work on it so much.”
Williams has been known for being able beat virtually anyone in the league one-on-one. In NBA vernacular, it’s called putting somebody in the matrix. But in the first two games this season Williams has shown an even better game, the ability to fit into the offense.
This past summer Williams averaged 20.5 points a game. And he still had that mentality when he came to camp. But the Sonics have slowly weaned him of the habit of overdribbling, of looking to get himself into position to score first, and now he’s looking to set up the offense. Every now and again, he will drift into his former mode, but he is making strides toward being more of a team player.
“I have to make a conscious effort,” Williams said. “I feel like I can break people down off the dribble. If somebody is pressuring me, I can put him in the matrix and beat him. Being the set-up guy, you can’t just beat him. It’s just more or less getting into position, setting the offense up and getting us going in the play we need to run.”
In the last few games, that has not been an issue for Williams. Instead of backing up Payton, he has been playing alongside him. Which is, in all likelihood, one of the reasons Williams has found himself open for so many shots.
“He’s getting good looks at the basket because we are spacing the floor real well when he is in there,” Westphal said. “He is really as good a shooter as there is when he gets time to get his feet set. So it’s really not surprising. He is letting the game come to him and doing a good job.”