Before I begin my first post as a 213 Hoops contributor, I wanted to thank everyone who’s come over to the new site (and welcome to the new readers). We’ve been dealing with some pretty shady stuff, and so it means a lot that we have the support of the community. Also, one silver lining (or unfortunate consequence, depending on your point of view) is that this whole debacle has got me back into writing about the Clippers.

And now to the subject at hand: the Underground GOAT, Lou Williams. I’ve seen chatter on Twitter that Lou Williams is struggling this year. That he’s just not the same player and closer he was last year, and at the ripe age of 33, after two career seasons, he’s finally (and suddenly) declining. I’m here to explore whether that notion is true, or if it’s not true, why it might seem that way to fans. Oh, and I’m not going to be talking about defense here. Just offense. I mean it’s Lou Will, what’d you expect?

We have a lot of writers on the team who would jump into a bunch of video analyses and tell you what they see, but if you’ve ever read my writing before, you’d know that’s not my style. I’m a straight up nerd. I like numbers. But I also acknowledge the numbers only explain half of the story, so I like to dive in with only the preconceived notions I’ve developed with the “eye test,” pull the numbers to see if they support those notions, and then reach my conclusions about what those numbers tell us.

Photo courtesy of the LA Clippers

Basic Stats

The easiest place to start are with Lou’s basic statistics. On a per-game basis, Lou is not really having a different season than last year. 

  • 2018-19: 20.0 points, 5.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds, on 42.5 FG% and 36.1 3P%, with 6.5 FTA at 87.6 FT%, in 26.6 minutes
  • 2019-20: 19.5 points, 5.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds, on 41.2 FG% and 35.0 3P%, with 5.8 FTA at 86.3 FT%, in 30.0 minutes

Some minor differences, most obviously a 1% dip in efficiency, but that’s the kind of noise you expect with data sets this small. The only major thing to note here is an increase in minutes, which makes sense because of the many injuries to other players this year. But let’s dig a little deeper into what that means.

(Barely) Advanced Stats

Behold, we enter the realm of ANALYTICS. Technically we entered that realm the moment we said “points,” but people like to act like analytics are a non-player’s view of the sport (right) that have no application in real life (wrong) and are only used in a vacuum without considering the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet (extra wrong), I thought I’d add some fanfare. When it comes to non-traditional stats, per-minute stats are usually where we start. Let’s look at Lou Will’s statistics on a per-36-minute basis, with a little True Shooting Percentage thrown in for AveryBradleys and giggles:

  • 2018-19: 27.1 points, 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, with 8.8 FTA, on 55.4 TS%
  • 2019-20: 23.4 points, 7.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds, with 6.9 FTA on 54.2 TS%

So now we’re starting to see some real separation. His stats are down across the board, right? Lou Will is washed right?? Well, no. Not at all, in fact. Sure, his per-minute numbers are down, but Lou’s role has completely changed from last year and he’s had only a minor drop-off in efficiency (context matters).

Last year, Lou led the team in usage percentage at 32.2% while being SIXTH in minutes per game by the end of the season (behind Tobias, Gallo, Bradley (and later Shamet), Pat Bev, and Shai). That’s super weird. This year, Lou is 3rd, behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, at 28.8% usage, but is now second in minutes per game (behind Kawhi, who also has to miss the second game of every back-to-back, when Lou’s minutes surge further). So he’s playing more minutes, but many of those minutes are off-ball. And that’s not to mention the most important change: Lou’s teammates. He’s surrounded by much more talent than he was last year. 

So why wouldn’t Lou’s per-game stats increase if he’s playing more minutes? Well, Lou’s taking 2 shots fewer per-36-minutes (or really 3 shots, if you count his 2 fewer FTA per-36), which isn’t really a problem since he has so many more efficient, veteran scorers around him. Lou’s adjusting his game in the right way—hell it’s probably part of the offensive scheme. I mean if anything, the argument could be made that he should continue to play-make and find even more shots for others.

Quality of Shots

Okay, so maybe the reason people aren’t loving Lou’s production is because what they’re seeing are a lot of bad shots being taken. Sure, his efficiency is mostly flat, but he’s just making bad shots, right? Washed GOAT!! Again, no. Nope. Negatron. In fact, it might be the opposite. He’s actually taking better shots overall. He’s just not making the bad, contested shots like he did last year (which you don’t want him to take anyway), so he’s understandably decreased their frequency (this is good).

When we talk about “good shots” in the current age, those are either at the rim or beyond the arc, and nowhere in between. Last year, Lou’s shot chart looked old school. He had taken more shots from the mid-range (defined as outside of 10 feet, inside the arc) which made up 33.9% of his total shots, than he had from the 3-point line, which made up 25.6% of his shots. 

Source: www.basketball-reference.com

This year, Lou’s updated his shot-selection, where it’s now the inverse, with only 29.9% of his shots coming from mid-range, versus 33.1% of his shots coming from 3-point distance (the corners in particular). He’s still shooting a fair amount of mid-range shots, more than he probably should, but if we’re comparing year-over-year, this is an improvement we like to see.

Source: www.basketball-reference.com

But wait, there’s more! Lou is not only taking better shots in terms of location, but also in how contested the shots are. He’s getting more open shots (defined as a defender being 4+ feet away) this year, up from 50.4% of his shots in 2018-19 to 54.2% of his shots in 2019-20. Plus, he’s taking fewer heavily contested shots (defined as a defender being 0-2 feet away) this year, down from 12.0% in 2018-19 to 8.6% in 2019-20. Now, on the flip side, he’s shooting far less efficiently on those contested shots, down from 37.5% in 2018-19 to 30.4% in 2019-20, but again, he’s avoiding them much better this year (his lowest frequency of heavily contested shots since 2014-15).  Plus Lou’s also shooting far fewer shots at the rim, his most efficient scoring area, compared to last year (22.1% of his shots coming at the rim in 2018-19, versus only 18.8% in 2019-20, his lowest rate since 2015-16). These two factors are probably the main contributors to his slightly lowered efficiency this year. 

Shooting by Month

So why do viewers still think Lou isn’t as efficient, if the statistics don’t really show it? Maybe it’s recency bias. This is a long, grueling season (particularly monotonous just before the all star break), so many players are prone to peaks and valleys throughout the year; Lou is no exception. Last year he started off hot in October, ice cold in November, went nuclear in December, had a couple down months in January/February, was back to efficiency in March, and then dropped down again in April. But this year, Lou has at least been more consistent—he hasn’t gotten as crazy hot as he did last year, but he also hasn’t gone completely cold either. And since February is, thus far, his one true “valley” of the year, maybe fans aren’t able to accept it as gracefully, since it wasn’t immediately preceded by a hot month. 

But I think it’s more about our selective memory. When I think back to last year, I don’t really remember the poor shooting spells, I only remember those super hot months. Not much to analyze here—I think we’re all just wired this way, and that’s not really Lou’s fault. And frankly, I’m comforted more by the lack of valleys than I’m concerned about the lack of peaks.

So is Lou still the Underground GOAT?

Look, as I said earlier, the numbers only tell half of the story. I can’t tell you what to think—if you think you see something, you probably see something. But the half of the story the numbers tell is an important one. We can combat things like recency bias or selective memory, which can make it hard to truly and fairly judge a player’s performance, with stats. 

Perhaps his detractors are not watching every game or every play Lou makes this year. Or perhaps they only watched his highlights last year, and now that the Clippers’ championship contention has drawn them in, they’re watching more closely. Maybe it’s the aforementioned selective memory, where people are only remembering the good times. Or maybe we’ve all got higher expectations now that the team is a contender, and while in the 2018-19 season we were just grateful to compete, we now require perfection on the court. 

At the end of the day, the stats say Lou Will is still who he is offensively. He’s never going to be the most efficient scorer, but he’s always going to be a threat to score, and a threat that defenses have to gameplan around. I’m not going to waste time comparing his efficiency to guys like JJ Redick who are hyper-efficient all over the court, but not as great at manufacturing a shot if given the ball with 3 on the shot clock. That’s the type of blanket analysis that ticks players off since it only considers raw numbers and doesn’t consider a player’s role on the court, which is fundamental to this game. Heck, the Clippers have seen first-hand how stagnant an offense without playmakers can get, so they just picked up a back-up point guard in Reggie Jackson.

But I will say this: if you felt that Lou Williams was a major factor that helped this team win 48 games, that took a heavily-favored (and healthy) Warriors team to 6 games, that completed the greatest comeback playoffs history, and that ultimately attracted the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, then I’d say in 2020, Lou Williams is still that cold-blooded assassin known as the Underground GOAT.

Photo courtesy of the LA Clippers


Erik Olsgaard

Erik Olsgaard

Erik has been a fan of the Clippers since 2004 and a member of the Clippers blogging community since 2009. He took a brief hiatus from writing, but now he's back with 213 Hoops, to provide an elder millennial's perspective on all things Clippers. You can always count on Erik to get to the truth of the matter by marrying up stats with the eye-test.

14 Comments

  • Avatar ognjen puljak says:

    Lou is still Lou offensively but with Kawhi and PG13 his offense is less needed and he gets less opportunities to showcase his alpha dog skills. That makes it harder to compensate for his – we don’t want to talk about it – defense. All in all, circumstances made him less important, he’s not declining. What a time is to be a Clippers fan, though. Lou is probably like 6th or 7th most important guy on this roster. No disrespect but defense mplatters more on a team that has Kawhi and PG13 surrounded with this much shooting.

    • Avatar wwshep says:

      As Ralph would say… Bingo!

    • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

      This. And since we’ve had very little time at full health, his flaws are magnified. Hopefully, in the playoffs he’s not closing every game or only those when he’s clearly hot.

  • Avatar osamu says:

    I do think it’s recency bias. He had a bad like 10-12 game stretch from the end of January to early February, where he just was struggling hitting anything. He was consistency in the low 30% FG%. His once automatic fading left mid-range shots weren’t falling and he wasn’t getting to the hoop. And his shot from 3 was even worse. I think from January 21 against Dallas to February 11 against the 76ers (nearly a month) he was shooting 22% from 3. If his shots aren’t falling, then you REALLY start noticing his performance on the other end of the floor, which is not good at best.

    His last games against the Celtics was a nice turn around, so you hope this was just a slump and he gets back to being a killer. I think given his play the past few years you still have to try to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him shoot through these slumps, but with the depth of this team, it’s almost too easy to say next man up. During Lou’s down stretch, Shamet has been playing his best ball of the year, so it’s easy to feel like Lou shouldn’t be closing games if he’s not contributing offensively.

    • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

      Celts game was also bad Lou in that he took shots away from Kawhi and stagnated the offense. Hard to blame him since we were down PG/Bev but even when he’s hot, he takes something away.

  • Avatar John Maclean says:

    Some people love dunks. Others like deep threes. I love watching a guy heat up and burn from all vectors. Lou is incredible at this and it’s why he’s one of the greatest bench players in history. Having said all that I’ve always wondered deep down if his lack of size might compromise his ability to deliver the deeper we get into the playoffs. Catching the Warriors off guard in the 1st round is one thing but finding daylight in final four matchups against the Lakers or Bucks could prove to be more difficult.

  • boltsfan21 boltsfan21 says:

    “Avery Bradleys and giggles” 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂

    Nice work, Erik. Glad to have you back doing your thing.

  • Avatar AndreyDKS says:

    Best article so far of 213H

  • Avatar JJ Jenkins says:

    lou needs a point guard or distributor..missing shai… he shouldnt be bringing the ball up but instead working off of trez pick and pops..currently hes picking up defenders at half court and beyond and theyre dragging him down for 8 seconds…he was deadlier on th catch and shoot..or catch and left step shoot..

    • Avatar Thegreatestshowman says:

      The legend of SGA lives on. The reality is he stood in the corner while Lou did his thing just like Sham or McG does. Defenses have learned to play the Lou/Trez PnR. Good thing both have proven they can thrive without the other. Will hopefully figure out a better roster balance on the offseason.

  • Avatar dedetizadora says:

    Descupinização é importante ρara controle ⅾе cupins.

  • Avatar PIKE4-3 says:

    Not sure which is the appropriate technical term for it – whether recency bias, or something else – but I lot of the misinterpretation of Lou’s season thus far as a ‘down’ year relative to past couple is a direct result of his increased mins/decreased use percentage.

    Operationally last year Lou and Trezz pretty much primarily were the providers-of- thrust behind the team’s ‘turbo-charge’ capacity on the offense-end (which is fair to say was the particular element of Clipper team-play & ability which seemingly took the rest of the NBA by surprise most about us.)

    Yes Gallo was still a primary scorer for them and arguably the team’s best starter, but last year’s bench unit ultimately led league in bench-scoring, and fueled them to the highest total of come-from-behind wins (and/or completing the largest come-from-behind victories), no doubt crucial to generating our ‘buzz.’

    I recall watching the first half of last season critically (even without all the expectations which are obviously more of a factor here this season), with a heightened awareness to the number of games I could deem as ‘saved’ by or mightily victorious due primarily to Lou’s individual heroics – as also sort of a personal protest/condemnation of the lack of visible support or strategic positioning & advantage the team seemed to benefit from doc’s X & O’s or coaching decision-making… I remember losing count around the #29 mark or so, still prior to the then still-upcoming all-star break.

    In other words, Lou had a much more profound and constant green-light, and thus received a brighter and more consistent national and local spotlight for being as successful as he undoubtedly was so often last year.

    This season fans are probably unwittingly reacting to their slightly higher exposure to him in games (higher mpg), while also seeing [as the article mentions] less shot-taking & making (lower use %) combined with slightly higher ‘sloppiness’ or ‘carelessness’ (.5 more TO per game), and ultimately just the generally lower overall leverage within which his positive statistical contributions are collecting.