Toronto • At strange hours for an NBA player, Marvin Williams shoots.
Find him in the Jazz practice facility west of Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City, shooting and shooting, mornings after bad performances, on off days for the Jazz. Dutifully, Marvin Williams Sr., a former college point guard, chases down rebounds and passes back to his son. He shoots.
Williams, the Jazz’s starting small forward acquired in the offseason from Atlanta, is routinely the last man off the court for the Jazz in pregame warm-ups, drenched in sweat to match his postgame sheen. At the practice facility, he usually shoots with his dad, but also personal shooting coaches or his brothers, when they’re in town.
“My dad has always emphasized hard work,” Williams said.
No NBA player reaches the most competitive league in the world without an advanced ethic. Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft, is not unique in his commitment. But on a team filled with big personalities and balanced scoring options, the soft-spoken Williams is still trying to find his place with the Jazz (3-4), who play Monday at Toronto.
Is he a slasher and shooter capable of defense-busting performances like Saturday’s, when he scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Jazz’s 94-81 win over Phoenix? Or will his offensive production disappear again for long stretches, like when he missed 11 straight 3-pointers over five games from Nov. 2, at New Orleans, until Saturday?
“He’s just finding his way in our system,” coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Williams said the only way to break out of a funk is to “shoot your way out of it.”
But on Saturday, his first four baskets came near the basket. He was more aggressive and had his best performance since a 21-point outing in the opening-night win over Dallas on Halloween.
Williams is in his eighth NBA season, but left the University of North Carolina after just one season. He’s just 26. He is not married, does not have a girlfriend.
“Just him and the game,” said his father. “That’s the only thing he needs to worry about.”
The Williams family calls Marvin Sr. “Big Marv,” despite his son, “Little Marv,” being a good foot taller than he is. However, the Jazz hope Williams grows to be a big presence for them, too.
They’ve seen flashes of it. Despite making just 19 of 46 shots since opening night, Williams is averaging 9.9 points through six games — not far off his career average of 11.5 points per game. Against Memphis on Nov. 5, Williams shot just 2-for-5 from the floor, but All-Star small forward Rudy Gay, whom Williams guarded, had a worse night. Smothered by the veteran Williams all night, Gay made just 3 of 17 attempts.
“He’s a defensive presence,” Corbin said. “He’s a veteran guy that knows how to play on both ends of the floor. He’s not making shots in the last game or so; that will come. He’s still thinking a little bit about where he can get into the spots at. If his shot don’t go, he’s capable of putting it on the floor and getting to the basket.”
While the numbers were bigger against Dallas, Saturday may have been Williams’ best game with the Jazz.
“I don’t stress too much on the bad games,” Williams said Saturday night. “I’ll nitpick tonight’s game — where I feel like I did OK — but obviously I’ll have some things I’ll have to look at.”
Williams is a stark contrast to boisterous forward Al Jefferson, whom Williams has known since high school, or fiery guard Mo Williams. Marvin Williams is so even-keel that he could almost pass unnoticed.
“I like to laugh at jokes,” he said, “but very rarely will you catch me making jokes.”
However, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that Williams is struggling to fit in with his new team.
“I enjoy playing with everybody,” he said. “I feel like the guys who have been here have really embraced me and accepted me.”
Williams is potentially playing for a new contract. He has a player option at the end of this season that would make him an unrestricted free agent. After this season, it’s anyone’s guess as to where Williams will be.
Until then? Find him in the Jazz’s practice facility, just Big Marv and Little Marv.
Utah at Toronto
P Monday, 5 p.m. MST
TV • ROOT
• Age 26
• Averaging 9.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 28.6 minutes as a starter for the Jazz
• Scored season-high 21 points against Dallas on Halloween
• Spent first seven years of his career in Atlanta before being traded to Utah this summer in exchange for Devin Harris
Utah at Toronto
P Air Canada Centre
Tipoff • Monday, 5 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Season series • First matchup
Records • Utah 3-4, Toronto 1-5
About the Jazz • Utah is winless in four games away from EnergySolutions Arena. ... Seven Jazz players average more than 8 points per game. ... Derrick Favors is 10th in the NBA with 2.29 blocks per game. ... After playing 2 minutes in the first three games, Alec Burks is averaging 10 minutes per game in the last four. He averages 1.8 points per game. ... Monday’s game is the first of four straight on the road against Atlantic Division teams.
About the Raptors • Kyle Lowry leads the Raptors with 18.3 points per game. He is second in the NBA with 3 steals per game. ... Toronto’s lone win came against Minnesota on Nov. 4. ... The Raptors play at Utah on Nov. 7 in the third game of a five-game road trip.