Mo Williams has suffered a thumb injury, a setback that will leave him sidelined indefinitely.
Williams injured his thumb in a game against the Miami Heat, the second time that he has injured his thumb. Williams underwent offseason surgery for a torn ligament in his right thumb in 2008, and has spoken about how this injury feels similar.
“Mo is the guy that drives the pace for us,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We’re going to miss him, we’ll see how long this thing is, we don’t know yet until he gets looked at by Dr. Mason when we get back, but hopefully it’s shorter than longer.”
From the game-winner against the Spurs to his strong play on the road, Mo has brought a swagger to the lineup that was missing last season, a presence noticed by his teammates.
“Mo brings things to the table that a lot of guys don’t bring,” Jazz center Al Jefferson said to the Salt Lake Tribune. “But JT and Earl [Watson] have been professionals and lead. I feel real confident that they can hold it down until he gets back.”
Williams spoke about the intensity of the pain, in case there was any doubt about why he is sitting.
“I can’t even eat or brush my teeth,” Williams said to the Salt Lake Tribune. “It was tough to bathe. That’s when I kind of knew it was significant like it was then. I just couldn’t utilize it. When you lose some part of your body when you get injured, you realize how significant that part of your body is.”
The encouraging news is that Williams did play well for the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2007-08 season, when he also suffered a thumb injury. He played in 66 games, averaging 17.2 points, 6.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds a game. Williams also shot relatively well with the injury, shooting 38.5 percent of three-point attempts and registering an eFG rate of 52.8 percent, higher than his career numbers. He did miss the end of the season, however, as he aggravated the injury with 10 games remaining and underwent surgery to correct the ligament tear.
Jamaal Tinsley is expected to start in his place for the Jazz, while Earl Watson will assume the backup point guard position. Randy Foye is also capable of playing the point at times.
The change to Tinsley may not be as negative as it sounds. The third most-used lineup for the Jazz features Tinsley at the point, with an offensive rating of 118. When Tinsley plays with Marvin Williams, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, the Jazz are excellent on defense. They are better defensively with Hayward instead of Foye, but better on offense with Foye instead of Hayward. If you’ve watched a Jazz game, it shouldn’t be news to you that Foye excels on offense while Hayward provides better defense.
This isn’t to say that Tinsley isn’t an All-NBA defender at the point – he has Big Al Syndrome when defending the pick and roll – but he is savvy enough to position himself well enough on the majority of plays to limit his mistakes. Tinsley won’t gamble for steals often, but he won’t be left out of position as he stays at home on his man.
The negative effect that may come with Williams out of the lineup will be evident in three areas: end of game play, second unit play, and floor spacing.
Mo is one of the most accurate free throw shooters in the league. When the game gets down to free throws, sending Tinsley to the line will be sending a reliable shooter into a high-pressure situation, but it is a lie to say that the production will be similar.
The second unit has had a problem scoring this season. DeMarre Carroll has provided the energy in every game, Enes Kanter has improved tremendously since his days dominating cones and chairs in practice, and Derrick Favors leads the team in blocks per game. Unfortunately, they just can’t get the ball into the hoop reliably – and that is not Earl Watson’s forte.
Earl scored 30 points in his first 14 games – not exactly a great average. While he has only averaged about 15 minutes in those games, he isn’t lighting up the scoreboard.
The third area of concern is floor spacing. The Jazz have slightly improved their team offense since last season, and part of that is due to the addition of Randy Foye and Mo Williams. The two former Clippers have added perimeter shooting, an area that was comically bad last season.
The Jazz, like it or not, are a better offense with the threat of perimeter scoring while also getting inside scoring from their forwards. With Williams out, the Jazz can not play the same style of offense that has been successful this season.
Take for example, the history of Waston and Tinsley. Watson has made 101 three-pointers since the start of 2009, which is just a touch below the 85 three-pointers attempted by Mo this season. Tinsley has only attempted 124 three-pointers since 2009. Over that same span, Mo has attempted 695 (adjusted for seasons played by both players), or 560 percent more than the new starting point guard.
While it may be true that assists correlate to wins, does a higher percentage on three-point attempts correlate to wins? Oddly enough this season, the Jazz shoot better in losses than they do in wins – by seven percent. What’s odd about that? The Jazz are shooting at a better rate in their losses than the Miami Heat, the top team this season in three-point percentage, are in all their games.
Does this mean that the Jazz are going to win more games now that Williams is on the bench? No. Will the team benefit from only having 10 road games until the All-star break, with only two trips of more than one game? Yes.
Mo has done well helping get the Jazz to where they are now, and it’s time for the backups to step up and help run the offense. If things go south after further evaluations, perhaps the Jazz can explore the trade market for an alternative at the point guard position.