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Jason Williams' Vanishing Act

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Yesterday, Josh Robbins reported that Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith saying that he is open to bringing free-agent point guard Jason Williams, last year's backup to Jameer Nelson, back to the team as its third point guard. That news struck me as curious, given how dreadfully Williams played down the stretch last year, but even then, he's still a better option than a lot of the alternatives still on the market.

What I wanted to look at was Williams' monthly splits, to make sure I wasn't imagining his ugly second-half slump. And I wasn't. Williams went from being wildly overqualified as a second-stringer to an utter liability on both ends of the court just about overnight, to the point where I privately started wondering if coach Stan Van Gundy should consider dusting off third-stringer Anthony Johnson and giving him Williams' job.

From October to February, Williams played exceptionally well, relative to expectation. In addition to deft playmaking--he tallied a pure point rating of 6.64--he shot the lights out, posting a 57.0% True Shooting mark through the first 60 games of the season.

But Williams fared considerably worse in the 36 games the rest of the way, counting the postseason. Though his pure point rating dipped only slightly, to a still-impressive 5.82, his shooting is what hurt him, and by extension the Magic. His True Shooting figure, from March to the end of the Eastern Conference Finals? 48.7%.

As the Magic's backup, Williams doesn't have to do much other than make the right pass and get out of the way, and occasionally pop a jumper. (I really do mean "get out of the way:" Williams' usage rate of 14.43 ranked 42nd among 45 point guards who averaged 20 minutes per game and made at least 40 appearances, according to HoopData). As time wore on, his game appeared to wane. We can attribute [art of his early-season success to his role, as he filled in for Nelson as a starter for 17 games in November and December, but that still doesn't change the drastic drop-off in performance late in the year.

Given his low usage rate, it's clear that Williams isn't expected to be a scorer for this team. But the Magic's backup at least needs to be able to hit a jumper if pressed to do so. If he isn't converting his limited opportunities, he doesn't merit any attention from the defense, as Williams' diminished jets mean he's not a threat to drive. In short, Williams was not making jumpers, not breaking the defense down, and thus not helping much, even with his on-point, around-the-horn passing.

With all that said, Williams could be useful in an extremely limited role behind Nelson and Chris Duhon this season. He was brilliant over his first 1312 minutes in 2009/10. In small, extremely concentrated doses, he could be just as effective as a third-stringer, particularly in blowouts.

Williams played for the league minimum last season, and probably deserves a raise. The Magic can offer him the bi-annual exception, which is pricey for an end-of-bench guy at just over $2 million.