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By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor - Archive - Email
The Pulse of the NBA

New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - There were plenty of headline-grabbing transactions during the summer with all the major free agent news, highlighted by LeBron James' return to Cleveland.

We also had the big trade between the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks that resulted in Tyson Chandler going back to where he played a huge role in the Mavs winning their only NBA championship.

But there was one deal that drew very little attention and I'm guessing not much of a reaction from NBA fans, but it surely has been a huge boost for a defending division champ and a trade that can only be called a major steal at this point.

That's what you call the deal the Toronto Raptors made with the Atlanta Hawks, as they traded a way-past-his-prime John Salmons and a second-round draft pick for Lou Williams along with 21-year-old center Lucas Nogueira.

The addition of the nine-year veteran Williams has upgraded the Raptors' bench significantly and gives them one of the deepest and most talented backcourts in the league. The 27-year-old suffered a torn ACL in January 2013 and is now only back to the player he was before the injury, and he's played a big role in helping put Toronto atop the East with a 19-6 record.

"He's been more than we've expected," coach Dwane Casey said. "I knew he was an excellent player, but you go in with reservations coming off the injury. He's back 100 percent now from injuries. He's fully healed. He's stronger from it, so he's been a pleasant plus for us this year."

In regards to Williams' offensive game, Casey says "he's a born scorer," but the big surprise has come at the other end of the floor.

"One area that was really highly unexpected was his defense," Casey said. It's huge. I was shocked. There were all these stories about, 'He's a scorer off the bench,' but he's been one of our solid defenders on our second unit - being in right position in the schemes, understanding schemes, being in the right place, pushing the ball as a quasi-point guard/ballhandler - but he has been a great teammate."

Williams is averaging 14.6 points in 22.5 minutes per game, and even earned an Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor in November in helping the Raptors go 3-0. During that stretch, he averaged 23.7 points in just 22 minutes per game, which included a huge game in Cleveland as the Raptors routed the Cavaliers. He scored 36 points in 29 minutes, shooting 9-of-19 from the floor, including 3-of-8 on 3-pointers, and an eye-opening 15-for-15 from the foul line.

The former second-round pick (45th overall) of the Sixers in 2005 has had five games of at least 20 points, and all of them have come in wins for the Raptors.

"It's amazing how he can go out there and run off the points he can in the short amount of time he's out there," said teammate DeMar DeRozan, who has been sidelined the last nine games as he recovers from a torn tendon in his left groin. "The energy with the second unit is definitely amazing. That's something that was lacking last year and we got a lot better this year and I think that's why we're able to close out a lot of games this year that we couldn't last year."

Williams' presence has certainly eased the impact of DeRozan's absence. The Raptors are 6-3 without their All-Star guard, with Williams doing his share to pick up the slack. In those six wins, he's averaged 17.6 points, including a pair of 26-point outings.

The road back from his torn ACL was a long, grueling process for Williams, and one in which he wasn't sure he'd ever be the same player. But those thoughts can now be put to rest.

"When you're sitting there and you have a cast on and wheelchair and crutches and can't lift your leg up, you can't ride a bike, you can't run, you can't jog, obviously there's going to be some doubt there," Williams said. "Two years later, it's great to see some fruits of the labor, to feel myself back to 100 percent, being back healthy and having some success."

PARKER INJURY CHANGES ROOKIE RACE

Speaking of a player tearing his ACL, what terrible news came out of Milwaukee late Tuesday night regarding Bucks rookie Jabari Parker. He will be out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, which he suffered on Monday in Phoenix in a win over the Suns.

Parker was the clear-cut leader for the NBA's rookie of the year, but now the award is up for grabs, in what is probably the weakest field I've ever seen.

I think the Chicago Bulls' Nikola Mirotic has been the second-best rookie, and despite the fact that he doesn't start and play as many minutes (17.8 per game) as some of his competitors such as Andrew Wiggins (30.8 per game) and Nerlens Noel (30.4 per game), I think he deserves serious consideration for contributing to a winning situation rather than guys who may have bigger numbers but play for really bad teams.

Copyright 2014

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