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Appreciating Marvin Williams

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Atlanta Hawks v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

15 years is a long time.

Marvin Williams entered the NBA in 2005 and, after 15 seasons and more than 1,000 career games, the 6’8 forward told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated that he will be retiring.

“I’ve been very blessed,” Williams told Spears. “God has been very, very good to me.”

While Williams finished his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, he spent time with four different NBA franchises, including the first seven seasons of his career with the Atlanta Hawks. More than eight years have passed since Williams donned a Hawks uniform but, given his tenure and his arrival in the NBA, many view Williams primarily through the lens of his time in Atlanta.

Williams, who joined the Bucks mid-season in pursuit of a championship run, was 10th among active players in games played (1,072) and finishes his career as one of the top 100 players all-time in games played. From there, the 34-year-old made 828 starts and Williams appeared in 59 playoff games.

Still, for some, Williams is seen as a “bust” in prospect-focused terms, as he was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, just ahead of future Hall of Fame guard Chris Paul and multi-time All-Star Deron Williams. While no one could argue the Hawks made the “right” decision 15 years ago, Williams put together a remarkable career, as evidenced by his longevity and a sparkling run as an ultra-valuable role player that aged into his mid-30’s.

While it is fair to say that Williams never became a star, a recent look at the history of No. 2 overall picks from Zach Harper of The Athletic reveals that Williams actually lands approximately in the middle when evaluating that draft slot. The ability to stick around, as a positive contributor, for 15 NBA seasons is truly remarkable, and Williams also navigated the progression from hyper-athletic youngster to wily veteran.

In fact, Williams entered the NBA as a shaky perimeter shooter, connecting on only 25 of 108 three-point attempts over the course of his first three seasons. From there, he gained traction as a floor spacer as the NBA moved into a more modern era, and Williams connected on more than 37 percent of his three-point attempts over the last nine seasons.

His accolades — including more than 10,000 career points and 5,000 career rebounds — are impressive under any microscope but, in the hours after Williams’ intention to retire became public, he was also lauded in many corners by his peers and those who covered him. First, former Hawks teammate Jamal Crawford shouted Williams out for his contributions, including a reference to their time as Washington prospects.

From there, Isaiah Thomas, Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala were among the current and former players to recognize Williams’ run in the league.

In January, Williams spoke to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer about his future plans, tipping his hand that retirement was on the table. Though he was clear that he doesn’t plan to coach, the next step for the 15-year veteran could include a role in basketball and working with youth.

“I was in New York, but focused on the international basketball operations part of it,” Williams told Bonnell. “I like the Junior NBA (program) where you are basically a camp counselor all around the world. Basketball Without Borders (the league’s global summer outreach), I’ve done a couple of those: I went to Africa and I went to Indonesia.

“Any opportunity I get to travel and work with kids? That’s what I would love to do.”

Above all else, Williams is known in basketball circles as a fantastic person and that became even more clear after the announcement became public. Some undoubtedly will not see beyond the draft-day decision made by Billy Knight in 2005. That is simply the reality through which a segment of the population views sports, and the Paul-related jokes were flying even in the minutes after word of his retirement broke.

However, Williams didn’t stumble into more than 1,000 games, outlasting the vast majority of his draft classmates, simply because he operated as a tremendous locker room presence. While that is true by all accounts, Marvin Williams could also play and do so at a high level, with seven quality seasons as a key piece for the Atlanta Hawks spring-boarding into eight more campaigns elsewhere.

Shout-out to Marvin Williams on a wonderful career.