Derrick Williams was a rotation player for the Miami Heat and then the Cleveland Cavaliers last year. He averaged just over 17.0 minutes per game for the Cavs and won the Eastern Conference title with the squad during his first career postseason appearance. While he has not yet received a contract offer from an NBA team this season, he has played well since signing a contract to play in the Chinese Basketball Association. The former No. 2 pick recently spoke with HoopsHype about his experience.
How much time had you spent abroad before you took the move overseas?
Derrick Williams: I’d been to China before with the Kings. We were here for a week. But in general, I’ve been all over the place. I went to the Philippines during the lockout year for about five days and played a few games for a couple showcases with Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Kevin Durant and a few other guys. I’ve also been to Europe plenty of times. I’ve been everywhere. Travelling is one of my favorite things.
The other American on your roster is Pooh Jeter. How are you two as teammates?
DW: He’s been an excellent help. He’s from Los Angeles as well and he’s been on a couple other teams with Mike Beasley, Jeremy Tylerand a couple other American guys that I actually know. He’s that old-school, veteran guy that you need off the court and on the court. But you can’t play Americans together in the first or fourth quarter. I didn’t know about that.
Did you speak with others who have played in China before you made your decision?
DW: I actually didn’t. I was looking into different options in Europe, where I had a few offers as well. I just wanted to play basketball. I wasn’t basing my decision on money or anything like that. I was honestly tired of sitting at home. This was my first time without training camp, not playing, waiting. It was awkward for me. I was watching preseason games and then the NBA season started and I just wanted to play! One of the Americans got hurt in China, they called me, I was on the flight the next day. I was so excited to showcase my talent and get out of my comfort zone. I got here January 1.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in your life since moving?
DW: Everything is different. The food and the lifestyle – everything closes around 10 pm. A lot of stuff is banned online; you can’t go to Google or Instagram or Twitter. Some people here have never even heard of it. You can see what’s important in your own life. It’s a good place to get your priorities right. That’s something Pooh Jeter told me he noticed about playing with Michael Beasley and I think that’s one of the reasons why Mike is playing so well for the Knicks right now. He’s doing the things we all know he is capable of doing.
Everything has been on the up for me since I got here. I really came here to open people’s eyes again and really bring back to life what I bring to the table not just my game but my personality, character and different things to different teams. Every stop in my career, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about what I can bring to the team.
How big of a deal are Americans (like former teammate Jimmer Fredette) out there?
DW: He’s super big out here. He’s very successful and there are guys that are superstars out here. He might not be an NBA All-Star or anything like that but it’s a great opportunity to get your confidence up, too. They love Americans out here. They love basketball in general. We bring the NBA identity and they feed off it. I know he’s had different people call him from NBA teams but he’s been excellent.
I mean, I get recognized here every single day. People bring me cards from my rookie season or cards from the Cavs, the Knicks. People don’t forget. They aren’t so much the “what have you done for me lately?” type. They remember college and high school stats and have magazines from ten years ago. They love when Americans come here and really enjoy the culture of what we bring. It’s not just us trying to go there and enjoy what they bring. They try to embrace the exchange.
You were a spot-up shooter for the Cavs but played in transition for the Knicks. Where do you feel most comfortable?
DW: When I played for the Knicks, it was the first time in the NBA that someone tried to use my athleticism to the advantage of the team. It’s often about the opportunity. Which coach is going to give you a chance to display what you can bring best? New York let me showcase my ability and the Cavs let me run with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Those guys encouraged me to get the rebound and just go.
Whether I’m getting a rebound and starting a fast break or one of those guys does and I got out in the open court, it was awesome. I was able to knock down spot-up shots or corner threes in the half-court offense in Cleveland, too, because I’m a slasher. I’m able to get to the lane and use my hybrid to my advantage. It’s so crazy because when I was drafted as a hybrid 3-4, that’s not something front offices were looking for. But now all of a sudden that’s exactly what they’re looking for in a player. That’s what I do. That’s how I got into the league. I’m a mismatch nightmare and play both positions.
Let’s play rapid-fire reactions to some NBA storylines this season. Lauri Markkanen?
DW: He’s an excellent player. I watched the tournament and in the game that they were eliminated, the other team went zone and he didn’t touch the ball in the second half. I’m not really sure why not, it was obvious that dude could hoop, and I was asking everyone I was with why he didn’t get all the shots because he was their main guy. It’s awesome to see a guy coming from overseas go to Arizona and then have the impact right away. It’s great to see players from your alma mater do well. I’m very excited and I’m not surprised. With his size and athleticism, there aren’t too many players in the league who can shoot like him.
The next guy I’m going to mention will likely be the highest draft pick from Arizona since you: DeAndre Ayton.
DW: I’ve watched a few games from him and, dang, that’s a big boy right there. I can’t exactly pinpoint a comparison other than like Dwight Howard who dominates in the post. He’s going to be a very good big man, very unique, potential franchise player. You can’t teach size and strength like that. You really can’t stop him.
What was your immediate reaction to the recent Blake Griffin trade?
DW: That was crazy! I was there with Carmelo Anthony when he was on the Knicks and I knew he had a no-trade clause in his deal. I think people were hating on him for that but I don’t know why you’d hate on that. I believe if Blake Griffin would have been able to do that, he wouldn’t have ended up in Detroit. That caught me by surprise. He signed for a ton of money this summer and he is a franchise player. There were still a few days before the trade deadline. But even though it’s a game we love to play and watch, it’s also a multi-billion dollar business. I don’t even think that Blake would have expected to wear a Pistons jersey after this offseason but front offices are going to play chess sometimes. No one is safe in their positions. I’m excited about what he’s going to do in Detroit, though. He’s already off to the right start.
What are your observations about the development of Kristaps Porzingis?
DW: It’s great that he’s getting the opportunity to be the face of the franchise. When you have someone as big as Porzingis who can shoot the three-pointer from NBA range with that kind of basketball IQ and athleticism, you have to take full advantage of that. He’s a one-of-a-kind player and I can’t even imagine what he’s going to be like in four of five years when he has his legs under him and that strength we want to see him develop. He already has that touch and he is going to evolve over time. He can add like three different moves that you can’t guard. I was there for his rookie season and it got me so excited.
What are you seeing from the struggling Cavaliers after being on the team last year?
DW: I was there for that run last season and I was around those guys, multiple All-Stars. I was finally around NBA winners. That’s what I lacked my first few years in the league. I was never with a winning organization. I needed to be around people who wanted to win, who hated losing. I got that chance and I wish it was the whole season. They’ve had a few injuries this year and they have so many new players. It’s hard to adjust when you have that many new players on your team. There are teams like the Spurs who have had the same core for so long. I didn’t think they would be in this position but you still see flashes of potential from them. There are bumps in the road, too.
They’re just missing the toughness. They’re missing energy and excitement. LeBron will bring that but he can’t do it all himself. There will always be five men on the court. That was a little bit of what I brought to the team last season. I brought energy, effort, efficiency. Right now it feels like there is a little bit of coasting, to be honest. It’s a long season but you can’t get bored of winning. LeBron will never get that way but you never know with other players.
What are some of your biggest motivations and inspirations both on and off the court?
DW: I’m 26 years old. People love to count me out. That’s the reason why I got to the NBA, though. The position that I’m in now is the reason why I made it. It’s like adding fuel to the fire. When I see people like Beasley coming back from where they are, people bring them down and they bring it right back. That’s what I live for. I just can’t wait until that happens again. It’s all about the daily grind and getting back to the basics. If people stopped hating so much, the world would be so much better. But someone will always talk bad about you. It’s how you get back, people are going to knock you down.
What is something you would tell a front office looking to sign you?
DW: I’ve always been a team player. I’m young in the basketball world. I have a lot of time to really get better, too. I’m going to focus, that’s why I’m here in China. Sometimes, people just get too comfortable in the NBA. I wouldn’t say I went that route. But the reason I got to the league was that I was comfortable with being uncomfortable. I was the No. 2 overall pick but it was wild considering I wasn’t ranked in the ESPN Top 100 coming out of high school. But two years later, I was right there.
The things you dream can come to fruition. I’m a prime example of working to your goals. I’m not in the spot I want to be in but sometimes you do things you don’t want to do. I want to be in the NBA. I’m an NBA player with NBA talent. Things happen for a reason and when I get a call back to the NBA, I won’t take it for granted. I will live like this until the day I can’t play basketball any longer.