By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"I can't tell you what he's meant to us," head coach Don Nelson says effusively. "I can't emphasize his importance enough. Just with spacing, being able to put him in the game and spread the floor has been a huge help to our offense. He's a good shooter, and he's made us so much deeper. With the injuries we've had, even without them, he's stepped up and made a contribution. A significant contribution."
Del Harris, the Mavs' assistant coach, says pretty much the same things about Williams that Nellie does. But he focuses on one other note, something a lot of you may not know. The fact that, despite public perception, Williams will scrap down low.
"The big thing for us is, he's been a surprisingly good rebounder," Harris says. "On a per minute basis, he's third on our team. That's a pretty significant stat. He's behind only...well, look at it." He turns to a dry-erase board that has each player's minutes per rebound (the time it takes a player, in minutes, between each rebound). It reads, in descending order: 3.34 [Shawn] Bradley, 3.44 [Dirk] Nowitzki, 4.5 Williams.
Look at that again. Two guys who have been cornerstones for the past few years followed by the piece of driftwood they picked up just days before the season got under way.
"When I realized I was coming to Dallas, I was like, OK, I'm gonna be in the playoffs; that wasn't even a question," Williams says. "But other than that, I didn't know what to expect. When I got here, and I met the guys and saw the chemistry they have, and I saw how unselfish they are...that's the other thing. These guys, you look at the Big Three, right? You could argue that each one of them is in the top 10 players in the NBA. If they wanted to freeze me out and not gimme the ball, they could do that, and no one would really say anything because they play so well together. But they didn't do that. They don't do that. They brought me in, and you can see how unselfish they are. They pass to the open man, no matter if it's Michael [Finley] or Dirk or Shawn or me. Doesn't matter. Open guy gets the ball. In fact, the coaches will sometimes get on us for over-passing. That's what kind of team this is. It's a great situation for me."
He stops and looks around, and all of a sudden that mischievous smirk returns.
"But I tell you what, though," he says, chuckling, "I ain't lettin' these guys win anymore when we play around."