Earl Watson is still getting to know Deron Williams. Watson is less than three months into his first season as a reserve point guard with the Jazz, and he acknowledges that he is still learning what makes Williams tick; what makes Utah's starting point guard special and unique.
But Watson is a widely respected 10-year veteran who has played for seven NBA teams, and proudly considers himself to be a student of the game. He is certain of one thing: Williams clearly has a chance to be a prime Most Valuable Player candidate once the 2010-11 season is complete.
"It's a goal that he never talks about, but you can see it developing," Watson said.
The development is most evident in Williams' rising numbers. The sixth-year All-Star guard is producing initial statistics worthy of a career year. Through 26 games, Williams is averaging or tying all-time highs in points (23.0), rebounds (4.0), steals (1.4), free-throw shooting (86.0 percent) and minutes (38.0). He has recorded at least 30 points during Utah's last three games. And since a victory Nov. 24 against a Chris Paul-led New Orleans team, Williams has averaged 25.7 points during an 11-game span, recording at least 21 points in all but one of the contests. Utah (18-8) has gone 8-3 during the run, and the Jazz have won 10 of their last 13 games.
When Williams was asked Monday night following a 108-95 home victory against Golden State that saw him pour in 30 points and dish out 10 assists if he had MVP aspirations or simply wanted to be considered one of the top 10 players in the league, Utah's team leader sounded sincere when he replied that he is not concerned about public recognition. The only thing that Williams cares about: winning.
"I am just trying to do my part," he said. "I have had to take a little bit more of an aggressive approach scoring the basketball this year than I have in the past. That's what I am doing. I still want to get my teammates the ball; I am still a point guard first. It's necessary on this team for me to score more."
Score he has. Williams has been on an at-times unstoppable run that everyone from Jazz coach Jerry Sloan to Utah players and longtime teammates Ronnie Price and C.J. Miles are convinced ranks among the best of his career. At the same time, Williams' closest on-the-court companions are convinced that he has taken his all-around game to a completely new level.
Watson said that if he recalled Williams at his peak last season, this year's version easily tops it. Miles went deeper.
"He just has so much more control of everything, I think," Miles said. "He's always had scoring runs. He's always had games where he's taken over. But he just has so much control over the game and affects it in every way. It's been great to play with him and see him grow and it helps everybody else; it makes us so much better."
Williams' early-season rise was recently rewarded with the Western Conference player of the month award for October and November. But his true worth is most evident in Utah's initial success.
Williams has carried Utah throughout a surprisingly fast start that has provided the Jazz with a half-game lead over Oklahoma City for first place in the Northwest Division. Utah has the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and is tied for fifth overall in the league.
"I think he understands that we need him to step up right now," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "He's been taking over games. He's been leading our team to victory."
Jazz guard Deron Williams is averaging or tying career highs in several key statistical categories this season:
Deron Williams has recorded at least 30 points in three consecutive games and has averaged 25.7 points during the Jazz's last 11 games:
Dec. 11 34
Dec. 10 32
Dec. 8 21
Dec. 6 27
Dec. 3 12
Dec. 1 24
Nov. 29 22
Nov. 28 26
Nov. 26 29
Nov. 24 26