Denver • The pain wouldn’t go away, and as last season wore on, Marvin Williams felt it — his bone digging into his Achilles — each time he got up on his toes.
“I don’t know if you can imagine what that feels like,” the Jazz forward says.
If you can, then perhaps you’ll understand why Williams’ scoring dropped nearly every month of the season, his first with the Utah Jazz, why he shot a career-low 42 percent from the field, and why, now that he’s finally healthy, he says his game has not improved — only his heel.
“The biggest thing is I feel good,” he said. “If anybody’s watched me through my career, they know what I’m capable of doing. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different. I just feel better than I did last year.”
With Utah firmly in rebuilding mode, Williams describes the Jazz as “Derrick’s team and Gordon’s team,” referring to the squad’s two young captains. Williams is in the last year of a five-year $37.5 million contract. But at 27 years old and playing in his ninth season, he is one of the team’s most veteran players and it’s becoming increasingly clear that if the Jazz want to win in the present, Williams has to be on the floor.
As he worked his way back from offseason surgery, Williams watched from the bench as the Jazz racked up five straight losses to start the year.
When the Jazz finally won in Game 9, Williams was integral, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
After a string of losses, Jazz coach Ty Corbin inserted the veteran into the team’s starting lineup and the team won three of its next five games.
So perhaps it wasn’t just coincidence that when his heel flared again, preventing him from playing, the Jazz lost their next four games. And perhaps it was more than just coincidence that when Williams returned to the starting lineup Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings, the Jazz walked out of Sleep Train Arena with a win.
The numbers back it up: the Jazz are better with Williams on the court. Utah is nearly 14 points better per 100 possessions with the veteran forward on the floor than with him off it.
Williams, the No. 2 overall draft pick out of North Carolina in 2005, was drafted after Andrew Bogut and just before Deron Williams and Chris Paul, and spent the early part of his career with the Atlanta Hawks, the subject of criticism.
But in his second year with the Jazz, Williams has embraced a new role.
“When you’re drafted at a certain spot, your expectations and teams’ expectations are different for you,” Corbin said. “They compare you to other No. 2s. There was some of that with him, I think. He was a really young guy coming into this league and was put into position where expectations were high.
“From the time he’s been with us, he’s been super.”
On a young team struggling to figure out its identity, Williams has helped take charge.
“His role is different on this team without the guys we had last year,” Corbin said. “He’s got a bigger role on both ends of the floor. I think he feels the responsibility.”
He’s been able to space the floor with his shooting and he’s one of the team’s best communicators on the other end of the court, organizing the team’s defense.
“He’s big for a 3 and he can shoot for a 4,” teammate Richard Jefferson said. “He’s a tweener that actually has a position.”
Williams is shooting 46.2 percent from the floor — the same number as his career best, which he shot in 2007-08 with the Hawks. His 40.7-percent shooting from 3 is better than he’s ever shot for a season.
Corbin has praised Williams’ contributions outside the lines, too.
“He’s talked about going through a rebuilding process his first few years in Atlanta, struggling to win games and how you have to pay attention to the details,” the Jazz coach said. “He’s using that experience to help these guys get through it because he’s been through it.”
Williams called the two squads “very similar.”
“You had to take a few lumps but we continued to work hard and we became a better team over the years,” he said. “I think this Utah team has a really good chance to do that.”
Jazz at Nuggets
O At the Pepsi Center (Denver)
Tipoff • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 97.5 FM, 960 AM, 1280 AM
Records • Jazz 5-19; Nuggets 13-8
About the Jazz • After missing multiple games with injuries, forwards Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams both started in a win Wednesday over the Kings. Neither player experienced setbacks and both practiced Thursday. … Will be looking to avenge a home loss to the Nuggets last month, in which the Jazz let a fourth-quarter lead turn into a double-digit loss. … Had a season-high 35 assists and a season-low six turnovers against Sacramento.
About the Nuggets • Coming off a six-game road trip in which they went 4-2. … Point guard Ty Lawson (hamstring) practiced and is expected to play Friday. He is the Nuggets’ leading scorer. … Coach Brian Shaw has his team exceeding expectations even with forward Danilo Gallinari still injured.
Marvin Williams file
Hometown • Bremerton, Wash.
Height • 6-9
Weight • 237
Drafted • No. 2 overall in 2005 out of North Carolina
Points • 10.2 per game
Rebounds • 5.1 per game