It's been a painful season for Deron Williams, not only because of the Jazz's disappointing eighth-place finish in the Western Conference but also because of a freakish injury that occurred in late October.
In Utah's next-to-last preseason game at Chicago, Williams launched a jump shot and landed on the foot of Bulls rookie Derrick Rose.
Williams suffered a severely sprained ankle, which forced him to miss 13 of the Jazz's first 15 games, play in seasonlong discomfort and face the possibility of offseason surgery.
"It hurts every day," he said, "and it's not going to stop until I give it some rest."
Through it all, Williams put together his best professional season.
He averaged career highs in scoring (19.4) and assists (10.7) and will likely be the focus of Los Angeles' defense when the Jazz open their first-round playoff series against the Lakers on Sunday night.
"He started slow -- a little shaky -- because he got hurt," said teammate Ronnie Brewer. "But he got it together and became the leader of this team. ...
"We all look up to D-Will because of what he's done. He worked with [John] Stockton. He bought into coach [Jerry] Sloan's system. He's grown into one of this league's best point guards."
A month after Williams was hurt, fellow U.S. Olympian Carlos Boozer suffered a knee injury. He missed 44 games and still isn't 100 percent.
From the sideline, Boozer watched Williams take charge of the Jazz's offense, especially in January, when he averaged 23.2 points and 10.9 assists while shooting 51.2 percent from the field.
"He's done a phenomenal job," Boozer said. "I think it's been his best season. ... Obviously, we are a team, but he carried a big load and the effort -- the focus -- has been there every night."
Statistically, there is only trace evidence that Williams has been playing on a bad ankle. He shot 31.8 percent from the three-point line this season, down from 39.5 percent a year ago.
Williams' overall field goal percentage also dropped, from 50.7 percent to 47.2 percent, possibly because opponents didn't have to worry about Boozer for over half the season.
"You can't do anything about injuries," Sloan said. "He struggled a little when he first came back. All players do. ... [But] he's had a terrific season."
Deron Williams » Career-high 19.4 points per game; career-high 10.7 assists per game.
Brevin Knight » 2.4 points per game; 2.6 assists per game. Shot 35 percent from the field.
Breakdown » Williams overcame a preseason ankle injury that bothered him throughout the year and played like an All-Star. Knight won the back-up job early but has struggled making jump shots.
Derek Fisher » 9.9 points per game; 3.2 assists per game. Hits 39 percent on three-pointers.
Shannon Brown » 4.2 points per game; 0.8 assists per game. Played 48 games this season.
Breakdown » Fisher can be beaten off the dribble, but his jumper stretches a defense, creating space for teammates. An athletic defender, Brown has replaced Jordan Farmar as the primary back-up.
Advantage » Jazz
For the Jazz to have a chance, Williams must dominate. Expect the Lakers to focus on him and be extremely physical, especially when he goes to the basket.