The Atlanta Hawks appeared unlikely to make any major off-season moves this past summer. And then the team imploded its roster by trading away franchise cornerstones Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. In their place, General Manager Danny Ferry assembled a hodgepodge of players, including perennially underachieving guard Devin Harris and three-point marksman Kyle Korver.
Many thought the Hawks' run of five consecutive playoff berths would come to an end with the changes. But thanks to shooting guard Lou Williams and his other new teammates, the Hawks are on pace for a 50-win season — an impressive start for the revamped team.
The 26-year-old Snellville native not only wanted to return home after seven years playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, but he also hoped to help the Hawks sustain the team's recent success, despite losing players such as all-star scorer Johnson.
"In the NBA, once one guy leaves it gives other guys an opportunity to step up and fill that void," Williams says. "That's always been the makeup of this business. We had guys who were more than capable of playing at a high level."
The Hawks have jumped out of the gates with a 19-9 start and Williams has seized his role in the team's rotation. He says that the Hawks' early success isn't much of a surprise to those within the organization.
"Danny Ferry and Coach Larry Drew basically wanted to use me the exact same way as in Philadelphia, but with even more minutes, even more opportunities to score the basketball," Williams says. "Nothing is a surprise to me."
Williams has racked up comparable numbers to last year when he finished second for the league's Sixth Man of the Year award. The Hawks guard is averaging just shy of 14 points per game, but what's even more impressive is his increased uptick in shooting efficiency on the court. He credits those improvements to his continued focus.
"I'm hiding in my downtown condo all day just preparing for basketball games, preparing for practice." Williams says. "In this league, the same thing will make you smile or make you cry. You could be winning games, and at the drop of a hat you could be losing games."
To focus on his game, Williams has shelved some of his off-court activities, which have included collaborating with rappers such as 2 Chainz and Meek Mill, and hosting a radio show back in Philadelphia.
The time he does spend away from the court, aside from his semiweekly visits to Yeah! Burger, is with his daughter Jada, who turned 2 last month. While the Hawks player has long valued his family, he says the past 24 months have changed his life completely.
"My life isn't about me anymore," Williams says. "Everything I do, any decisions I make are basically for my daughter's benefit as opposed to mine. She's matured me in ways I didn't know. She showed me how to love people in a way I didn't know."
He's also given back to his alma mater, South Gwinnett High School. In October, he convinced Drew to host a preseason practice at the high school's gym, where he earned Georgia's Mr. Basketball twice. It's the same facility where Williams became the second all-time scorer in the state's high school basketball history before skipping college and going straight to the pros.
"This is a long journey, and anytime you can bring people that started with you from the ground up, it's about them enjoying it as well," he says.