Against the Phoenix Suns, the story of the Portland Trail Blazers convincing win wasn’t the 58 rebounds grabbed or 28 assists distributed. It wasn’t the terrific individual performances of LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, or Jamal Crawford, either. Elliot Williams, in his eight minutes, stole the show.
Williams, a 6’5″ 22-year-old guard out of Memphis, was selected 22nd overall by the Blazers in the 2010 NBA Draft. Considering his makeup and success in college, the expectations were high. Portland would have to wait to see what he could do, however, as a right knee injury caused him to miss his entire rookie season. He recovered from surgery and entered this season healthy, but the team was still waiting. This time, injury wasn’t the reason. He was ready to make an impact, but no minutes were for the taking, so he just sat on the bench. Nate McMillan’s rotation has been short and a logjam at both guard positions hasn’t help matters. As a result, he entered the Blazers game against the Suns with nine points in 19 minutes this season.
Considering Portland has proven veterans playing point guard and shooting guard, it is difficult to see Williams getting consistent playing time this season. Though this is the reality of his situation, his play had some fans clamoring for an increased role.
A Blazers win was well in hand when Williams entered with eight minutes and 37 seconds left in the fourth. He wasted little time in an effort to contribute. At first, he wasn’t successful, missing a step-back 19-footer a minute into his outing and then a layup moments later. The overwhelming desire was there to prove himself, and by the end of the 109-71 victory he had done that. It was a small sample against the Suns bench, but what ensued after these two misses had the Rose Garden in a frenzy.
In transition, with Portland up 91-57, he made a smooth step-back mid-range jumper. His follow-through was reminiscent of that of Michael Redd, who was sitting nearby on the Suns bench. Effortless if a bit unorthodox, it let to nothing but net. The crowd roared, knowing how rarely they get to see Williams play, let alone see him score. He wasn’t finished.
Three minutes later, Craig “Rhino” Smith stole the ball from Shannon Brown and heaved the ball to a streaking Chris Johnson. The lanky power forward, who like Williams hardly ever plays, could have flown in for a dunk. Instead, Williams came in at full, blistering speed from the left wing, received a pass in stride, and used some of his reported 46-inch vertical for a thunderous dunk.
On Portland’s next possession, he made another step-back jumper, and minutes later he swooped in and slammed home a Nolan Smith miss as it cascaded off the rim. He came in out of nowhere from the baseline and just took off. It was a thing of beauty, and these were his seventh and eighth points. In all, he took eight shots, made four, and even blocked Sebastian Telfair’s layup attempt. He was bounding up and down the court, with a spring in his step, beaming with confidence. He was pumped up on adrenaline, and so happy to play in more than just practice. He looked ready for the NBA.
That may be the case, but unless the Blazers keep blowing out opponents, which isn’t likely, Williams will head back to the bench. He will no doubt look on and see Wesley Matthews, Jamal Crawford, and Raymond Felton ahead of him, as McMillan isn’t about to adjust his roster and take minutes from serviceable veterans because of eight minutes of excellence against the Suns reserves in a blowout win. But, for the first time, Williams was able to give Portland a glimpse of what the future holds when a consistent opportunity knocks. And when he does get that chance, when his extraordinary talent is on the floor in more meaningful situations, look out.