During game three of the RGV-Reno playoff series Tuesday night, the fans in Hidalgo, Texas started an "MVP" chant for forward Mike Harris. Harris was playing in the game on assignment from the Houston Rockets, but he spent 34 games with the Vipers this year. His play this year certainly warrants an MVP candidacy, and it certainly warrants praise from his former team's fans. There are others, though, who have written that Harris "will undoubtedly" win the award, and that's not quite right.
Former Sioux Falls Skyforce star and current Golden State Warriors phenom Reggie Williams deserves the award just as much, if not more, than Harris does.
Williams played 31 games for the Skyforce before being called-up by the. He didn't get a chance to hear "MVP" chanted in the playoffs, because he doesn't happen to play for an NBA team affiliated with Sioux Falls, but he still had a fantastic year - one every bit as good as Harris's.
Williams was the Skyforce's third round pick in this year's D-League draft afterplaying in France last season following a successful career at the Virginia Military Institute where he led the NCAA in scoring two straight years. DraftExpress became fans after watching him at the 2008 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament:
He was awesome coming off screens and knocking down shots, despite his strange mechanics. He also displayed better athleticism than we may be giving him credit for by finishing a thunderous alleyoop lob, and also showed a nice basketball IQ and solid unselfishness by making a number of excellent passes to open teammates (helping him net 6 assists). We’ll be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of his game, even though his average lateral quickness and ball-handling skills may limit his NBA potential in the long-run.
Not much changed during his year in Europe, and at the beginning of this season he was known primarily as a crafty, efficient scorer who needed serious work on the defensive end and a more effective 3-point shot. The scoring efficiency certainly held up, as Williams made 63.8 percent of his two-pointers for an overall 57.6 field goal percentage.
That puts him sixth in the league, but almost everyone above him on that list are big men; Mike Harris finished six-tenths of a percentage ahead of Williams (.582), and no one above him attempted any three-pointers this year (Harris averaged two attempts per game, but hit less than 29 percent of them). For his efforts, Williams finished second in the league in scoring at 26.4 points per game.
This is not to say that Williams was just a scorer this year. He finished seventh among forwards with 3.8 assists per 48 minutes, and averaged 6.7 rebounds per 48 minutes, solid for a perimeter player.
Did Reggie Williams's defense improve? You bet it did. Early on in the season, the Skyforce didn't really have a dependable perimeter defender, so Williams often was called on to guard the opposing team's best wing scorer. He readily accepted the challenge, and finished the season averaging 1.55 steals per game, numbers that put him among D-League defenders in good standing like Dontell Jefferson and Williams's eventual teammate, Chris McCray.
I also was surprised to see that his three-point shooting had needed improving, as he's been so good at it this season. He made just 28 percent of his threes in his last year at VMI, and even fewer, 21 percent, while playing in France (according to DraftExpress), but he shot 41 percent from outside this season, good for 19th in the league. That may not sound great, rankings-wise, but keep in mind a.) that only six players ranked above him attempted as many or more threes per game as Williams did, and b.) the level of improvement over his college and overseas numbers.
I should add to all of this that for most of Williams's tenure with Sioux Falls, he was the best player on the team by far. Whereas Harris had teammates like NBA assignees Joey Dorsey and Jermaine Taylor and eventual fellow call-ups WIll Conroy, Antonio Anderson, Garrett Temple and Kenny Hasbrouck, for the most part Williams had to carry the load for his team. Shotblocker Greg Stiemsma was battling injuries early on in the season, and inside presence Alexander Johnson didn't arrive on the team until late January, playing just 11 games with Williams. Williams played just two games with the Skyforce's NBA assignee Nate Jawai, and really, come on; it's Nate Jawai.
There's also the matter of what Williams has meant to the D-League as a whole. According to Knickerblogger's stats, he is second on the current Warriors' roster in True Shooting percentage at 60.1; third on the team in three-point shooting at 38.9 percent; third in PER at 17.0; fourth in eFG at 56.4 percent; and he has the second-lowest turnover rate on the team at 6.6.
Should all of that matter when talking about the D-League MVP? Perhaps, perhaps not.
But Williams' emergence as an NBA talent is undoubtedly one of the D-League's better stories this year - in fact, Dime Magazine called him the best story. Williams was even interviewed at halftime of a Warriors game on TNT. In that way, one could argue that Williams has been "valuable" in showing that many of the top D-League players can cut it in the NBA. Williams earned not just a pair of 10-day contracts, but had his salary guaranteed for next season.
This post is not meant to take away from the season that Mike Harris had. His numbers were excellent and he improved his midrange shooting. While it's true that he played with more high-level talent than Williams did, he also made some large contributions to Rio Grande Valley's success. Still, I wanted to shine a light on Reggie Williams's performance this year, because I don't think he's gotten proper credit when talking about potential D-League MVPs.
Harris is one option, but Williams is equally deserving of the D-League's top honor.