Lou Williams gives Hawks needed boost

Atlanta Hawks guard Lou Williams (6) drives down court against the New Orleans Pelicans in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
Atlanta Hawks guard Lou Williams (6) drives down court against the New Orleans Pelicans in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Lou Williams is only three games into his second professional stint in Atlanta, but the Hawks have to be liking what they’re seeing so far.

Williams continued his hot streak with 15 points in a win Sunday over the Warriors. He had a game-high plus/minus of plus-19, the exact same mark from two days before in a win over the Pelicans. The former Sixth Man Player of the Year had 19 points, eight assists and four rebounds in that game.

General manager Travis Schlenk swapped Rajon Rondo for Williams, two future second round draft picks (2023, 2027) and cash considerations at the March 25 trade deadline. It has worked almost perfectly.

In just three games, Williams has arguably had more on-court impact than Rondo had in 27 games. Rondo averaged 3.9 points and 3.5 assists in 14.9 minutes per game. The point guard made his debut for the Clippers on Sunday against the Lakers, another of his former teams.

Injuries nagged Rondo in his time with the Hawks, but he still could provide veteran leadership for a young team. Williams also fills that niche, but the metro-Atlanta native almost eschewed the opportunity.

After learning of the trade, Williams considered retirement. He ultimately decided to come back, citing love for his hometown. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound guard played basketball for South Gwinnett High in the early 2000′s. Asked Monday if his first three games for the Hawks since 2014 vindicated his decision, he politely disagreed with the question’s premise.

“I don’t know if vindicate is the right word,” Williams said. “I know I’m a good player. … A lot of the things that I felt, the emotions that I felt was before an opportunity to meet the organization, to get around a group of guys that I was going to be working with. The opportunity to make those introductions and get a feel for what’s going on around here has been able to help me tremendously.”

Williams left a team that’s currently third in the Western Conference finals. He joined a team that is now tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Since interim coach Nate McMillan took over on March 1, Atlanta has a 12-4 record. That includes an eight-game winning streak, a 4-4 road trip and the current three-game winning streak. McMillan also coached the Hawks to two wins and a loss when former coach Lloyd Pierce was on parental leave.

The success of Williams in those three recent wins helped offset the Hawks’ depleted lineup. Injuries have sidelined John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Kris Dunn and Cam Reddish for at least several games. McMillan prefers to use at least 10 players per game. Against the Warriors Sunday, he used just nine. That included Trae Young and Danilo Gallinari, who both returned from injury.

“I just felt the nine-man rotation was a pretty good rotation last night with Lou being at the point guard position (and) Gallo coming off the bench with Tony Snell and Big O (center Onyeka Okongwu),” McMillan said Monday. “We were going to rotate our wings between the 1-2-3 position. So it worked out last night. That’s a rotation we really want to get comfortable with until we get a couple of guys back.”

Once Collins and Hunter return, McMillan expects to use a 10-man rotation. That will likely always include Williams, who provides value in several facets of the game. He can score off the pick-and-roll, play solid defense and pick up the slack when stars like Young have an off night.

“There are going to be nights where guys have to sacrifice minutes because maybe some other guy is in a rhythm, and we’re allowing that guy to play,” McMillan said Sunday. “(Against the Warriors), it was Lou. Lou got us going that second half in the fourth quarter. I think the biggest thing was Trae was over there supporting it and cheering that on. That’s what we have to be about. The strength is in our numbers.”

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