We all have that one guy or girl in our group of friends that we've known forever, but as the years have gone by the friendship starts to feel forced. You may have originally connected because you were the only kids in kindergarten with an unhealthy love of the Power Rangers. Or perhaps you met in middle school and immediately hit it off because your friend noticed your Blink-182 CD in a Social Studies class. However you stumbled upon each other really doesn't matter though. What matters is the friendship that followed. That's kind of like what's going on with Atlanta Hawks front office and coaching staff and their dilemma with guard Lou Williams.
The fanbase in the Atlanta area has been familiar with Lou Williams for quite sometime. Lou attended a rival high school of mine, South Gwinnett High School, where as I attended Parkview High School. Lou was four or five years ahead of me in grade school -- I can't remember which -- but even with that large gap between us I still knew the name in middle school along with fellow high school phenom Mike Mercer. When Parkview played South Gwinnett during Lou's senior season I remember a friend of mine getting Lou to sign a pair of his Reebok Answer IV's after the game. Lou was a big enough deal that my friend made sure everyone in attendance that evening knew he was lucky enough to get the high school phenom to sign a pair of his sneakers.
Lou could have followed Mercer to the University of Georgia, but he elected to declare for the NBA draft at 18-years-old instead. It was a bold, risky move by Lou because it wasn't a sure-thing his name would get called on draft night. It did, but Lou had to wait a while. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers towards the middle of the second round. Seeing how Mercer's career unfolded at Georgia, I suspect Lou is perfectly fine with the choice he made to go straight to the NBA.
Lou played for the Sixers for 7 seasons and saw his role on the team increase a little more each season. Lou's best season with the club came with Doug Collins at the helm in 2011-12. In the 2011-12 and 2012-13 season's Lou averaged 14.9 and 14.1 ppg, respectively, off the bench in about two quarter's worth of playing time each night. Lou found his niche as an explosive guard off the bench. The key to lasting in this league for a long period of time if you're not a superstar is doing one thing particularly well. Lou has always been a liability on the defensive end of the floor, but he was able to able to score and play either guard position particularly well so he was able to get by.
After having a career year in Philadelphia where he averaged 14.9 ppg off the bench, the Sixers let Lou walk and he returned home. Atlanta is not a professional basketball obsessed town, they're dead last in attendance this season, but Lou returning back to the area he made a name for himself seemed like it could help reinvigorate the fanbase. It hasn't. It's also not Lou's fault attendance is low. Lou isn't the hometown draw that Jeff Francoeur was when he was a member of the Atlanta Braves. Francoeur started off hot with the Braves, but he eventually devolved as a hitter enough that the Braves were willing to move on from him. It irritated a lot of casual fans because people generally love hometown guys. It's understandable, but in the case of Lou and whether or not he stays with the Hawks long-term it isn't something that's going to stir up controversy one way or another in Atlanta. We know that because Lou fell out of the rotation in early March and hasn't been inserted back into it since and it hasn't been a big deal.
The Hawks have been patient with Lou because it takes time for players to start trusting their bodies again after serious knee-related injuries. Lou hasn't even played that particullary poor for the Hawks this season, which makes sabbatical even more bizarre. The Hawks front office envisioned Lou adjusting his skillset to fit more into head coach Mike Budenholzer's scheme. Filling the "Manu Ginobli-esque" role was the best case scenario, but at 27-years-old that adjustment was always going to be difficult. And it hasn't happened.
Lou is still shooting slightly above league-average from 3-point land at 36 percent, but he's only getting to the line roughly three times a game. His final year in Philadelphia Lou was getting to the line 6.2 times per 36 minutes to just 3.9 times per 36 minutes this season. He's not the aggressive player he once was prior to the injury and with Shelvin Mack and Dennis Schroder playing well the team has hummed along as of late without him evening stepping on the floor at all. It'd be one thing if Lou's minutes were down a tad to give Mack and Schroder more playing time, but Lou has been dropped from the rotation alltogether. It's not injury related; he's been outplayed by two younger guards who may fit better in Budenholzer's system.
Prior to Lou vanishing from the rotation, earlier this month Mack had fallen out of Budenholzer's rotation as well for a short time. So once he found himself back into the rotation and Lou originally fell out of it most, and rightfully so, expected Lou's absence from the rotation to not last as long as it has now. Flash forward to right now, the Hawks are currently riding a five-game winning streak and are in a very good position to keep their postseason streak alive. With Mack and Schroder playing well it probably isn't likely that we're going to see Lou re-enter the rotation any time soon unless the Hawks hit another massive skid.
Lou has been pretty quiet about the benching, outside of a few potential subliminal instagram posts, but you have to wonder how much longer this partnership between Lou and the Hawks can last if he isn't re-inserted into the rotation sooner rather than later. Lou is scheduled to make $5,450,000 next season, which also happens to be the last year of his deal. Lou isn't out of the rotation because they're bringing him along slowly anymore. We're passed that point. It can't be easy for a player who has been in the league for as long as Lou has now to be relegated to the bench for an extended period of time. Something has to give.
Maybe Lou gets re-inserted into the lineup by the end of the season and plays a pivotal role for the club in the playoffs. Maybe he doesn't. Nobody expected Lou's absence to last as long as it has, but the Hawks are rolling without him. It's also important to remember John Jenkins should be ready to go this summer, so an already crowded backcourt of Jeff Teague, Mack, Schroder, Kyle Korver and Lou figures to only get more competitive next season. There simply aren't enough minutes to go around for the Hawks right now and Lou is the odd man out. How long that remains to be the case, well, that's the big question isn't it?