WHILE THE 76ers were trying to secure their 18th win of the season on Monday against Boston, it wasn't surprising to see Elliot Williams matched up defensively against Rajon Rondo, the Celtics' do-it-all point guard.
That has been the role for most of the season for the 24-year-old University of Memphis product. Now a veteran of 90 NBA games (66 with the Sixers this season, 24 with Portland in 2011-12), Williams has impressed coach Brett Brown with his defensive tenacity since joining the team as a free agent early in the season. He is superbly athletic and uses his 6-6 frame to swallow up smaller players while still being able to match up with the bigger guards.
Lately, however, he has emerged as an offensive presence for the team, which ends its long season tonight with a visit to the Miami Heat.
"He's taking better shots," Brown said. "Everybody goes under a pick-and-roll [defensively against Williams], so it baits people and it becomes a little bit of a macho, ego thing where if you go under he's going to shoot it because he's open. But it's not his skill set, yet. So I think he's taking better shots and he's understanding he is really a high-level athlete and has an explosiveness that enables him to get to the rim. I think he's balanced out when to attack and when to shoot really well. His main asset is he can hawk the ball. He really is a great on-the-ball defender."
Williams has a quick first step that allows him to get to the basket, mostly toward his dominant left hand. Once there he has shown at times that he can rise up and power to the rim or finesse his way to a foul. He has scored double-figures in 10 of the past 11 games, including nine straight. With Portland, he scored 10 or more points only twice.
"Basically I'm doing the same thing, just focusing on defense, really," downplayed Williams. "I'm just playing a little more confident offensively and just taking what the defense gives me. I'm shooting the ball better, feeling more comfortable with the drives, knowing the offense better. Just different things and stealing the ball and getting out on the break a lot."
With his newly found offense, though, Williams insists he isn't looking more for it. Rather, it is just happening in the flow of the game.
"It's coming to me more, really," he said. "When you get into a rhythm as a basketball player, you know it. I'm just in a good rhythm now offensively, but still concentrating on defense.
"This is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do. As a team we're playing a lot better, although it always doesn't show in wins, we know that we're coming together as a team. You can't say it's just an audition. You're still with your team and you want to win, but at the same time I want to play well. I think that I've done a good job and been a good teammate. At the end of the season I want to work on a lot of things, I think I can become a better outside shooter and work on pick-and-rolls."