Charlotte Hornets forward Marvin Williams still remembers it, even all these years later.
That ambiguous “it,” is the lone 3-pointer Williams made his third season in the NBA, back in 2007-2008 with the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the lone one for the entire season.
“I was at Detroit, it was a half-court shot,” Williams said after Wednesday night’s 101-96 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. “No joke. And the funny thing is, all the 3s I took that year (10) were at the ends of the quarter.”
But the numbers in this case are deceiving. The reason that Williams only took 10 3-point attempts that season in Atlanta wasn’t because he’s a poor shooter from deep – after all, he shot 43.2 percent from 3 his one season at North Carolina. Rather, his percentage that season was just indicative of his team’s offensive philosophy: That rather than camping out behind the arc, he should use his 6-foot-9, 237-pound frame to bully his way into the paint and attack the rim ferociously.
“I didn’t shoot 3s by choice,” Williams said. “If you look at my free-throw numbers, they were really high that year. I just made a conscious effort of trying to attack more.”
That’s all true. That third season, Williams both attempted and made more free throws than any other season of his career, now 12 years deep.
So when the Hawks’ offensive philosophy changed the following summer, Williams rededicated himself to 3-point shooting.
And now, he’s the NBA’s leading 3-point shooter.
That may come as a surprise, that it’s not Steph Curry (42 percent) or James Harden (39.1 percent) – heck, even Williams chuckled when he learned the statistic – but it’s something Williams has always been comfortable with. Yes, his 45.2 percent from beyond the arc this season is the best of his career (and only the second season he’s been over 40 percent from that range). And yes, Williams has steadily improved most seasons of his career before reaching this point, but it’s still not like he had to entirely change his game.
He just had to find his stroke.
“I felt like I’ve always had great form, and I’ve always been a confident shooter,” Williams said. “Just early in my career, I didn’t focus on them as much.”
Against the Pelicans, Williams admittedly wasn’t his normal self from deep (going 1-of-5), but that 3-pointer he did make gave him 800 for his career.
If there is any transformation to Williams’ game, any drastic evolution regarding his 3-point stroke, it’s the places from which he shoots. Or really, the places from which he doesn’t shoot.
Basically, instead of settling for contested jumpers (not that he ever really did so anyways), now his savviness means he can pick his spots more wisely. Open spots, that is.
“A lot of his percentage has to do with he’s always in the right spots and places,” forward Frank Kaminsky, who considers Williams a mentor of sorts, said. “He knows where to be. He’s been in this league a long time, and he understands game flow and where things are happening.”
That understanding is as valuable (or even more so) than any added physicality Williams had early in his career. It’s allowed him to morph from that burden in the paint into a modern stretch four. It’s allowed him to overcome his advanced age, and to have longevity in a league where that’s so hard to come by.
And maybe most importantly? Well, now Williams can do a whole lot more than settle for half-court shots at Detroit.