Now that what was mere formality has been confirmed and Washington State guard Noah Williams is the latest men’s basketball Pac-12 Player of the Week, I want to spend a few minutes talking about just how remarkable his weekend was.
And no, I’m not talking about scoring 72 points. That’s awesome, yes, but ... do you realize how incredible it is to simply take 55 shots in two games? Maybe you don’t. We don’t typically look as a high volume of field goal attempts as something to be admired, but in this case, it certainly is.
To try and contextualize it, let’s go back just a little bit.
Early in the season, when Isaac Bonton was at his inefficient worst, fans lamented how he supposedly lacked the conscience necessary to dial back his high shot volume, believing the team would be better off if he’d just shoot less. And mathematically, that was true.
But ... someone has to take the shots. And I’m telling you: Players are not lining up to be primary scorers the way you probably think they are.
Do you ever notice how, when a team loses its go-to player, the most common development is everyone standing around, waiting for someone else to do something? That’s what happened against Washington with Bonton out. Not very many players are wired to be the one who takes 30% of the team’s shots; most players lack that kind of confidence — usually because, whether they’ll admit it or not, they’re just keenly aware of their own limitations.
It’s hard for the casual fan to understand how hard it can be for a basketball player — at least, one who cares about his team and its results — to take on that kind of burden. Fans think it’s easy to just “jack up shots,” but here’s the thing: What’s actually easy is passing the ball to someone else and hoping they’ll make something happen. Fans praise you for giving the ball up! It’s unselfish! There’s no potential negative consequence!
Fans should realize that what’s actually hard is knowing your teammates need you to shoot and are counting on you to score points to help them win a game everyone cares about, then having the guts to step up and shoot and shoot and KEEP SHOOTING even when you miss a few.
Williams wanted that smoke. He wasn’t about to let what happened against Washington happen again, and more than 40% of the Cougs’ possessions against Cal and Stanford ended with the ball in hands. (It was 25% against UW.) That’s not sustainable over the course of a season — Bonton is “only” at 31% overall, 36th most in the country — but for a weekend, when his team really needed him? Williams fearlessly stepped into that void.
It’s not admirable just because it worked out to the tune of 72 points and a pair of wins; it’s admirable because it takes an immense amount of basketball courage to shoot the ball 55 times in two games — including 12 times in overtime! Did you realize he missed his first 10 overtime shots before finally hitting a floater in the third overtime? Me neither! Huge guts.
By the way: The 35 shots against Stanford wasn’t just a WSU record; it’s the most in Division 1 this season and tied for the 10th-most in the a single game in the last decade. It doesn’t matter that it took three OTs to get there — in some ways, I think that’s more remarkable, that he was still giving everything in minutes 50-55.
One of the interesting parts of this is Kyle Smith’s (seeming?) surprise that Williams was capable of such a scoring outburst.
“I think he averaged 13 a game in high school — honestly, I don’t know if he scored much more than that,” Smith said after the win over Stanford. “I think he’s glad he picked basketball and quit goofing around with football. And if you would have told me …”
Smith trailed off, searching for the best way to say what he was trying to say.
“I just would have … uh … God bless ‘em because I would have thought he was going to be, you know, a candidate for defensive player of the year, he’d be a stat-sheet stuffer, and he could get 20 if he had four offensive boards and got to the foul line. But he’s really grown and developed and like I said, he really believes and is a good one to have on your team.”
Maybe Smith believes that. Or maybe he’s just saying it to make sure Williams keeps that chip on his shoulder. Either one seems plausible.