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Utah Jazz: For Deron Williams, it's simple as 1, 2, 3

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 5 2015 5:03 a.m. MDT

Utah's Deron Williams drives on the Warrior's Monta Ellis as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah.   (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Deron Williams drives on the Warrior's Monta Ellis as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — From being one of the best playing his position these days, to sliding over on occasion to shooting guard, to knocking down more treys, it seems as simple as 1-2-3.

In actuality, pinpointing precisely why the Jazz's Deron Williams has thrived as much as he has lately is more complicated.

Explanations can be dissected and debated ad nauseam.

What shouldn't be disputed, though, is the assertion that Williams has his game on. Because in this case, numbers don't lie.

Three straight games with 30 or more points, one with a season-high 34, and three straight games with 50 percent or better shooting. At least 21 points in 10 of his last 11 games. A 25.7 points-per-game scoring average during that span, and an 8-3 record in that stretch.

"He's been sensational, really," coach Jerry Sloan said.

Utah's Deron Williams drives on the Warrior's Monta Ellis as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Deron Williams drives on the Warrior's Monta Ellis as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

"I'd have to say this is as good as I have ever seen him play," Sloan added after Utah beat Golden State last Monday night to improve to 18-8. "He's playing terrific basketball."

It's not the first time this season Sloan has been so effusive in his praise of Williams, whose assists average of 9.8 is down from last season's 10.5 — but whose team-leading scoring average of 23.0 is up by 4.3 points.

And it's not the first time Williams has scored so prolifically; early in 2009, he had five consecutive games with 30-plus points and 50 percent-plus shooting.

But it's just part of the job description, Williams insists.

"I'm just trying to do my part," he said.

"I've had to take a little bit more aggressive approach scoring the basketball this year than I have in the past, and that's what I am doing," Williams added. "I still want to get my teammates the ball, and I'm still a point guard first, but it's necessary on this team for me to score more."

Utah's Deron Williams shoots as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Deron Williams shoots as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

What follows is a closer look at just how he's done that, starting behind the arc:

Hitting more 3s

Through 26 games this season — just less than a third of the 82-game regular season — Williams has attempted 122 3-pointers, a number boosted partly because long-distance shooting big man Mehmet Okur has been out while rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon.

The point guard is on pace to shoot 384 — which would be 125 more than last season's career-high 259.

More recently, though, he's not just putting them up. He's also draining them with improved efficiency.

"He had been talking about just trying to find his 3-point shot, and he's found it — which is the reason he's just knocked his points up (by) like eight or nine," teammate C.J. Miles said. "Instead of going like, 0-for-6 (in a game), now he's 3-for-6."

Starting Dec. 1, to be exact, Williams endured four games in which he went 1-for-6, 1-for-3, 1-for-7 and 0-for-5 on trey tries — 3-for-21 in all, a 14.3 percent clip.

In his last three games, though, Williams has gone 4-for-7, 2-for-4 and 4-for-8 — a 52.6 percent success rate.

"Him finding his jumpshot has really helped him out a lot," Miles said, "and it's helped his game more, because now they can't play off him."

Playing more 2

From his days next to Dee Brown at the University of Illinois to those alongside Milt Palacio and Keith McLeod as a Jazz rookie, and later paired at times with Brevin Knight, Williams hasn't always embraced being told to play some shooting guard.

His sixth NBA season, with veteran Earl Watson as his primary backup, is different.

"I like it this season," Williams said. "I like coming off the screens. And Earl gets me the ball in a good position to score.

"You know, even if I don't score, I have a chance to get it to other people where they can score. So it's not like I'm just coming off to shoot every time. I'm making plays from the 2."

Making them quite well, too, in Sloan's estimation.

"When we play him at the 2-guard position, he gets open," the Jazz coach said. "If I'm a young player, I'd watch him and see how he gets open.

"Instead of letting people guard you, he knows how to pace himself, he knows how set the guy up, and he knows how to use screens, he knows how to catch the ball and shoot it. He doesn't waste any time.

"He gets the kind of shots you like to have a lot of times in there — because he's good coming off the baseline shooting the ball," added Sloan, whose Jazz are idle until opening a four-game trip Friday at New Orleans. "Those opportunities still probably are gonna be there if we execute halfway decent."

Sloan doesn't mind Williams' increased shooting — at nearly 16 shots per game, he's attempting about two more per game from the field than last season — whatsoever.

"No, we're not trying to keep him from taking shots," Sloan said. "It's a matter of who can make good shots."

Williams can, which makes guarding him that much more difficult for opponents who must deal with him not only as a point but also — even in critical fourth-quarter situations at times this season — as an off-guard.

"I think it's helped," center Al Jefferson said, "because it really puts defenses in an uncomfortable situation — because he's coming off screens, and also he can get the ball still in the pick-and-roll."

Truth be told, it's not as if Williams — whose need to score has been heightened by both Okur's absence and the move of All-Star free agent Carlos Boozer and his 19.5 points-per-game average to Chicago — has had to learn anything new.

"Where I'm playing my best is coming off screens. That's what we did in college," he said. "We ran motion offense. That's all we did, is run off screens. And Coach (Bruce) Weber was constantly telling us to run, run through, and just learn how to get separation."

In the past, though, it wasn't something Williams necessarily enjoyed.

He wasn't controlling the pace of play.

He wasn't making nearly as many decisions.

He wasn't in charge.

But now he's committed to the concept, buying in because he knows it's best for the Jazz offense as currently constituted.

"It seems like before when I played the 2, there (weren't) plays being run to me. And I don't like being out there and not touching the ball," Williams said. "Now we're running plays where I get the ball back, and then can create for myself or for others."

He's No. 1?

As important as those limited minutes at the 2 have been to him and the Jazz, Williams is at heart a point guard.

He runs things, and savors doing so — especially when things are going well, like when he scored 16 of his 32 points in the third quarter of last Friday's win over Orlando and when he scored 11 of his 30 in Monday's victory over Golden State.

It's the kind of stuff that turns one-time NBA All-Stars into multi-time All-Stars — Williams made his first appearance at the league's in-season showcase game last February, when it was held near his Dallas-area hometown of The Colony — and inserts unlikely names into NBA MVP conversations.

Not that Williams, who earlier this week was presented with his award for winning Western Conference November Player of the Month honors, claims to be obsessed with any of that.

"I don't really worry about individual accolades," the 2008 USA Basketball Olympic gold medal-winner said. "I just try to play as hard as possible, do what I have to do for this team to win.

"And when you win, and when I'm playing well, all the individual stuff will come with it."

So Williams dishes when he can, scores when he must and lets the rest unfold however it does.

Some games, he allows the likes of Jefferson and power forward Paul Millsap to do their thing.

"Some games," Jefferson said, "he'll kind of get everybody else involved — then he'll take over when he needs to."

And, in some beyond those, he serves a reminder of why a case can be made — Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and others may argue — that Williams is No. 1 among current NBA point guards.

"That's what you pay players like that for. You pay them for fourth-quarter heroics, to take over a game and make plays and make big shots," Golden State coach Keith Smart said after watching Williams and the Jazz beat his Warriors. "That's why you have them. That's why your team moves from one level to another level, because you have those guys who can make those plays."

Productive period

Deron Williams' last 11 games

Date. . .Statistics. . .Win/lose

Nov. 24. . .26 points, 11 assists. . .Beat New Orleans

Nov. 26. . .29 points, 12 assists. . .Beat Lakers

Nov. 28. . .26 points, nine assists. . .Beat Clippers

Nov. 29. . .22 points, 10 assists. . .Beat Milwaukee

Dec. 1. . .24 points, 10 assists. . .Beat Indiana

Dec. 3. . .12 points, seven assists. . .Lost to Dallas

Dec. 6. . .27 points, eight assists. . .Beat Memphis

Dec. 8. . .21 points, 12 assists. . .Lost to Miami

Dec. 10. . .32 points, nine assists. . .Beat Orlando

Dec. 11. . .34 points, six assists. . .Lost to Dallas

Dec. 13. . .30 points, 10 assists. . .Beat Golden State

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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