In 2007, Deron Williams helped lead the Utah Jazz to the Western Conference Finals, the furthest the franchise had been in the postseason since the days of Stockton and Malone.
What’s the biggest difference the former All-Star guard sees between that Jazz team and the one currently torching the nets at Vivint Arena?
“I think we were like the fourth seed. These guys are doing a little better than we were,” Williams said as he joined the television broadcast during Friday’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “They’ve been really dominant. Early on, they were kind of trying to get their bearings about them, a couple of wins, a couple of losses, and then they went on that run and they’ve been playing phenomenal basketball.”
On a night when the Jazz had four players finish with at least 25 points (the first time that had ever happened in franchise history and just the eighth time a team had done it since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976), Williams offered his respect and appreciation for how balanced this year’s Jazz squad has been.
“It’s a total team effort,” Williams said. “It’s not just Donovan. It’s not just Donovan and Rudy. It’s by committee. They’re getting a lot of production from everybody. They’re well-coached and they’re on the same page. That’s what is similar to us when we went on that run: we were a really good team; we had good players and we had contributions from everybody.”
Williams also offered his perspective on Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert (in particular the criticisms levied by Shaquille O’Neal) and the Jazz’s record-breaking 3-point shooting.
“He’s got that it-factor. He’s got that infectious charisma. You can see he leads by example. He plays hard. His game speaks for itself; that’s never been an issue. And this year he has definitely stepped up in that leadership role. He was challenged by Shaq and he’s definitely answered that challenge. He’s got his team playing good basketball and it’s fun to watch him.”
“It’s a different game. His production doesn’t just show up in stats even though he’s averaging 14 rebounds and 14 points per game, two-plus blocks. What you don’t see is all the shots he challenges and how many times teams miss just because he’s in the lane and have to kick it out. His impact isn’t just with stats. I guess, Shaq has always been a hater of big men, especially the modern big men. He just constantly is. It’s kind of sad honestly to see. But if there’s anybody that can talk and has the ability to talk about guys it’s Shaq because he’s put in the work and you can’t really say anything to him.”
ON UTAH’S 3-POINT SHOOTING:
“It’s night and day. When I came into the league, Phoenix and Golden State under Don Nelson, they were the only teams that were putting up shots really quickly. Jerry didn’t want to get up a shot until the last 11 seconds of the shot clock and he didn’t really like 3s. Now you’ve seen that’s shifted. You want to get up 3s in 11 seconds. I know analytics is a big part of that. I’m not smart enough to understand the analytics, but there’s a reason for it and it’s the reason a lot of these teams are so successful offensively.”
Williams has maintained a home in Utah since he was traded by the Jazz in 2011. In 2018, Williams met with his former coach, Jerry Sloan, to apologize for the falling out that led to Williams’ trade and Sloan’s resignation. Now retired from the game at age 36 and already friends with new team steward Ryan Smith, Williams said he hopes to attend more Jazz games in the future.