Hawks' Williams excels as starter or sub

ATLANTA -- Lou Williams showed just what an impact he can make at the beginning of the game by hitting his first six shots, including a trio of 3-pointers, and scoring 16 first-quarter points against Boston on Saturday.

In the NBA, though, what happens early often isn't nearly as important as what happens late.

That is why a sixth man can be even more valuable than a starter and why Williams' role with the Hawks is likely to change periodically in the South Gwinnett graduate's first season back in Atlanta.

The Hawks couldn't hold a big first-half lead against the Celtics and have five losses in their past six outings going into tonight's game at Philips Arena against Utah.

After nine straight starts, Williams was back in a reserve role at Cleveland on Wednesday as coach Larry Drew went back to his big lineup to shake things up.

It didn't play off.

After getting a season-high 28 points against the Celtics and scoring 21 the night before at Minnesota, Williams had just five in the 99-83 loss at Cleveland as he failed for one of the few times this season to supply an offensive spark.

Now the Hawks and Drew might be back to square one as the team tries to recapture the magic that got it off to a surprising 20-11 start.

Williams -- signed as a free agent after seven seasons with Philadelphia -- has certainly done his part for the Hawks whether off the bench or in the starting lineup.

The 6-foot-1 shooting guard is averaging 15.1 points and 3.7 assists in 29 minutes per game. That is up slightly from the 14.7 points and 3.5 assists that Williams averaged in 26 minutes last year when he led the 76ers in scoring and was second in voting for the NBA's sixth-man award.

"He's a guy that supplies instant offense," Drew said.

How to best use him, though, remains the question.

"It's all about matchups," Drew frequently says.

But matchups didn't seem to be a concern when the Hawks were winning.

"Lou has done a phenomenal job since I've inserted him in the starting lineup," Drew said before the Hawks' went on a four-game losing streak. "He gives up a little size at the position, but he plays big. I will stay with that. It's been working for us so there is no need to change it."

The Hawks won five of the first six games Williams started and he certainly wasn't to blame for the three losses that followed with him in the starting lineup.

The 26-year-old averaged 18.6 points and 5.6 assists in the nine games while shooting 47.6 percent overall and 45.8 percent from behind the 3-point arc. From the foul line, he rarely misses no matter the role, hitting 87.3 percent.

Williams had come off the bench in 173 straight games dating back to 2010 before starting against Chicago on Dec. 22 and he was obviously enjoying a chance to be on the court at the start of a game.

"I'm excited about the opportunity," he said at the time. "I want to do all I can to keep it."

But Williams signed with the Hawks knowing that he would likely be a sixth man just like he successfully was with Philadelphia.

"I understand that we mix up the lineups, so there can be games where I'm not starting or I'm starting," Williams said. "It's bigger than me. I play a team sport and winning is what it's about."

The Hawks were winning and now they're not. That is why Drew is tinkering with the lineup.

But to have success, the Hawks need Williams to supply offense whether he is starting or not.

That's always been his true role.