Deron Williams is doing his best to quiet all those people and there had to be quite a few who wondered why the Utah Jazz would draft him ahead of Chris Paul. Prior to the 2005 draft, in which Williams went No. 3 and Paul No. 4, there were, in fact, more than a few GMs who preferred Williams, mainly because of his size.
Paul went on to win Rookie of the Year. He earned an invitation to the US Olympic/World Championship team. He is, unquestionably and justifiably, regarded as one of the best young point guards, if not the best, in the NBA. But the gap is closing. Williams has been a monster for the Jazz, who got off to a rocketlike start despite the fact that Andrei Kirilenko is doing little scoring and their starting shooting guard is one step away from the NBDL.
Williams said he keeps tabs on Paul.
"I definitely watch Chris," he said. "That's my boy. I see what he's doing. He's one of the best point guards in the league already, and I'm trying to catch up, trying to get there with him."
Celtics fans already have seen both Paul and Williams lead their teams to victories in the TD Banknorth Garden. Williams had 26 points and 14 assists in Utah's win, including a pair of nerveless jumpers when the Celtics were within striking distance late. Those were the kind of shots he didn't look, or especially want, to take last year. This year is very different.
"It's night and day," Williams said. "I know my playing time is going to be there. I know my role is to be a leader, to get people the ball and score when needed. I worked so hard this summer to get into the best shape I possibly could and come back and be a strong influence on this club."
It also helps to have had a year with coach Jerry Sloan, who has his own ways and can be difficult for younger players. Williams said he no longer feels he has to look at Sloan after he makes a mistake. Sloan gave him the green light this year to be more assertive, and that was all Williams needed to hear.
"It's a lot easier for me to control the game," he said. "I'm worry-free out there. Last year, I was hardly ever aggressive, I hardly ever went to the hole. This year, it's the opposite. I go to the hole every chance I can get."
Jazz assistant Scott Layden said the work Williams put in over the summer caught his eye. "All the good and great players improve their games in the offseason," Layden said. "They learn something from the year before and they work on it in the summer to get better. With Deron, the difference is hard to believe, especially at the position. But he put his work in, got himself ready, is in sync with the coach and has a calming influence when things get a little shaky."
Williams is one of a handful of reasons the Jazz got off to a terrific start. Carlos Boozer is finally playing and putting up big numbers. Mehmet Okur can rebound and knock down treys and Kirilenko, although hobbled by a bum ankle, remains an incomparably gifted and versatile player. But it's hard to believe Utah won 12 of its first 13 with Kirilenko being seventh in scoring on the team.
"This is the first time we've been together at the start of the season," Williams said. "If we stay healthy, we have a chance to be a special team."
And then, perhaps, Williams will be linked again with Paul, as the either/or point guards of the future.
"My thing is, they're both great," Layden said. "I just think GM Kevin O'Connor realized the type of player we were looking for."
A lot of people might have wondered what O'Connor was thinking last year. Williams is doing his best to make sure that list of doubters no longer exists.