Our 2021-22 Atlanta Hawks Player Review series continues with a look at the season of guard Lou Williams.
If this is the end for Lou Williams, he leaves a lasting legacy in the NBA. As part of the last draft class in 2005 with the ability to jump from high school directly to the pros at the age of 18, Williams joined the Philadelphia 76ers as a relatively unheralded second round pick.
The odds of lasting in the Association for more than a couple of years as a second rounder are long, and yet here we are at the end of Williams’ 17th season in the NBA. Along the way, he settled into a role as a combo guard and microwave scorer from off the bench. Williams is most remembered a sixth man specialist, having won three Sixth Man of the Year Awards, the first in 2015 with the Toronto Raptors and the last two in 2018 and 2019 with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Hailing from South Gwinnett High School, Lou Williams returned back to the Atlanta area for his second stint — the first spanning two seasons from 2012 to 2014 — after a deadline trade involving Rajon Rondo in the 2020-21 season. Williams was a big part of the late season turnaround that ended in an Eastern Conference Finals appearance for the Hawks.
There was a question as to whether Lou Williams would hang up his shoes or embark on a 17th season after unrestricted free agency last offseason, but the Hawks extended a one-year, $5 million offer to entice him to continue his career.
This season, Williams logged his fewest minutes per game and points per game since his 2006-07 campaign, with just 6.3 points and 14.3 minutes — as well as 1.9 assists and 1.6 rebounds — registered per contest. It was pretty clear that Williams couldn’t get as much separation on his patented elbow pull up jumpers at his advanced age. Similarly, while he has always able to rely on his ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line, he posted his worst free throw rate of his career — .244 free throw attempts per field goal attempt.
However, head coach Nate McMillan clearly favored Williams’ calm veteran leadership on the floor behind Trae Young at point guard, at least to begin the season. Williams and Delon Wright appeared to be fighting for one open role when the team had all its pieces available. Of course, the Hawks would have to deal with a multitude of absences, from injuries to illnesses to the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols, and often both would appear as the bench backcourt together.
Williams briefly appeared to win the backup point guard role as late as March in a ramp up to a postseason push, pushing Delon Wright out of the rotation. “I’m shortening my rotations,” coach McMillan said after a March win over the Clippers. “Ten guys is difficult to play and I’m going to a nine-man rotation. I want all of our guys to be ready.” Later, McMillan talked about his private conversation with Wright, saying, “I talked to Delon [Wright] about that. It’s nothing he has done. He’s been playing well for us. But it’s really difficult to play a 10-man rotation because everyone gets squeezed.”
But by the end of the month, Wright had taken firm control of that spot in the rotation, averaging 22.5 minutes per game from March 13 until the end of the season compared to Williams’ 13.1 minutes who also missing six contests entirely during that span. Lou Williams was sidelined for the final three games of the season, including the Play-in and Playoff tournaments, due to a lingering back injury.
Still, Williams did further cement his place in NBA history with a feat achieved this season. Williams set a record for the most appearances off the bench in league history, breaking Dell Curry’s previous record of 984 games in a February 16 win over the Orlando Magic. By the conclusion of the season, he had pushed that record-setting lead to 1001 games.
The tea leaves point to this being the offseason Williams finally walks away from the professional game. Whether his future is in coaching, broadcasting, punditry or some other endeavor entirely, I’m sure this basketball lifer will find a way to be involved in the sport going forward.