Atlanta Hawks guard Lou Williams (3) plays against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter at Philips Arena in November. (Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports)
ATLANTA — Lou Williams knew it wasn’t easy overcoming a major knee injury. After all, how could he avoid noticing Derrick Rose’s struggles.
Once back on the court, though, the Atlanta Hawks guard has been able to avoid the mental blocks that so effected the Chicago Bulls star in his comeback attempt.
“The only time I don’t really think about my knee is when I’m playing,” Williams said.
The former South Gwinnett High School sensation returned to action for the Hawks in mid-November —10 months after his injury — and is steadily working his back into shape.
Asked how close he is to being 100 percent, Williams said: “I don’t feel I’m far off, but I don’t feel like I’m there either.”
Showing flashes of his old self, Williams matched his season high with 13 points and also had three assists in 26 minutes during the Hawks victory over Cleveland at Philips Arena on Friday.
“It was the most fluid I’ve felt,” he said. “The knee is getting stronger and it should be even better with three days off before the next game.”
Williams, who hasn’t yet played on back-to-back nights, will go into that home contest against Oklahoma City on Tuesday with an 8.5 scoring average — well below his NBA career average.
The nine-year veteran has averaged just 21 minutes in his eight games, though, and the points seem sure to come once his time on the court is no longer limited.
“Williams is one of the best one-on-one players in the league and it looks like he’s getting more and more confident in his knee,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.
It’s not just Williams’ instant offense, though, that has new Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer so looking forward to having the 6-foot-1 combo guard fully healthy.
“The thing that stands out to you about Lou is that he really understands how to play basketball,” the former San Antonio assistant said. “It seems like a very simple and boring thing to say, but it’s a huge compliment to Lou. He understands the kind of plays it takes to win.”
That understanding came from countless hours on the court. The break from that norm was what made the inactivity so hard to take after he tore the ACL his his right knee last January driving to the basket in Brooklyn.
“Basketball has been a major part of my schedule and my life since I was 5 or 6,” Williams said. “It’s one of the things I’m super passionate about. Not being around it for so long was frustrating. But now I’m back playing, so I’m concentrating on the positives.”
The Hawks have taken the slow and cautious approach with Williams and it hasn’t always been easy for him to be patient. He knows that it is all for the best, though.
“It’s a process and I realize that,” Williams said. “They’re looking out for my best interests, which I can appreciate, rather than just throwing me out there and playing 35, 45 minutes right away. They realize it wouldn’t be the best interest for me health-wise and it wouldn’t be the best for the team.
“I’m grateful to be back on the court and feel privileged to be back with these guys. As long as we’re progressing in a positive manor, I’m happy.”
Williams made his return against Philadelphia — his former team — on Nov. 15 after missing eight games and had seven points and two assists in 16 minutes.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. I was more nervous before the game then when I actually stepped out on the court,” Williams said.“That is the funny thing about it. Dr. (James) Andrews said just put a basketball in my hand and I’ll be fine. He said that months ago and it ended up being true.”
Williams started two games while Kyle Korver was out with a rib injury, averaging 11 points and three assists over 26 minutes. But he has since returnd to to the super-sub role that he has excelled at during his career.
The 27-year-old finished second for the NBA’s sixth-man award while leading the 76ers in scoring during his final year with Philadelphia before signing with the Hawks as a free agent.
That allowed Williams to return home and he had certainly never forgotten where he came from, paying back with regularity.
Much of the charitable work comes through his foundation, but not all.
Williams rounded up some friends the Sunday before Thanksgiving, rented a UHaul and drove to a WalMart to purchase turkeys and groceries for 100 families. The group then drove around the Lawrenceville area to deliver the items.
“It was some random acts of kindness,” Williams said. “I felt like people could use it. It is very, very gratifying for me just to see the appreciation the people had for what we we’re trying to do. I’ve done it in the past, organized through my foundation. But this was just off the cuff.”
GWINNETT’S NBA CONNECTION
In addition to the Hawks’ Lou Williams, who played at South Gwinnett, three other players from the county are excelling in the NBA. The trio is from Norcross.
Al-Farouq Aminu23ForwardNew Orleans
Had 21 rebounds Wednesday and is averaging 6.6 boards and 6.3 points
Jeremy Lamb21GuardOklahoma City
Former U Conn star scoring 9.1 points off the bench in second season
Jodie Meeks26GuardL.A. Lakers
Averaging 13.5 points while starting in the absence of Kobie Bryant