For Nets to improve, Deron Williams must pick up his play

Deron Williams of the Nets drives to the

Deron Williams of the Nets drives to the basket against D.J. Augustin of the Chicago Bulls during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center. (Dec. 25, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Deron Williams could barely stand still, moving around subtly and seemingly uncomfortably as he stood in front of a pack of reporters peppering him with questions.

Williams wasn't sporting a blindfold and puffing on a cigarette, but the point guard was visibly down, having just been part of another disappointing effort in the Nets' 95-78 loss to the Bulls on Christmas Day.

In a season he termed "a nightmare,'' the Nets are on the fast track to disaster and are riding there in the carpool lane. They don't have any confidence, a disturbing notion for a team with a record payroll.

"We talked about that last game,'' Williams said, referring to the Nets' 17-point clobbering by the Pacers. "It's something we need to get back. It seems like once one thing goes wrong, we kind of hang our head and it just piles on.''

Here's the thing: Williams' body language hasn't been all that great this season, and it starts with him. With Brook Lopez lost for the season with a broken right foot, it's on Williams now more than ever to crank up his game a few notches and take the Nets (9-19) -- who host the Bucks (6-22) Friday night -- to greater heights.

In nine games since his return from a sprained left ankle, Williams' numbers haven't exactly been eye-popping. He has averaged 15.3 points and 8.2 assists in those games, shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 43.0 percent from outside the arc, but hasn't really left his mark on the game or made his teammates better.

As Williams goes, so do the Nets, and he's been sputtering. In the 11 losses in which he's played, he's registered a plus-minus of minus 4.6. In the six victories he's been a part of, that number soars to plus 10.3. The Nets badly need the version of Williams who tore it up for the last few months of last season, when he averaged 22.9 points and 8.0 assists and shot 42 percent from three-point range.

"I need to play better,'' he said earlier this week. "I need to be more aggressive for us to have a chance. Especially with Brook going down, that's what I talked about is stepping up.''

If this keeps up, the whispers about Williams' failure to live up to a mega-max contract that pays him an annual salary of $20 million will only increase. The talk about his being injury-prone won't go away, given the list of ailments he's dealt with since the Nets obtained him from Utah in 2011.

The bubbling theory that he's a coach-killer won't dissipate, considering that he's playing for his fifth coach in the last three-plus seasons and hasn't flourished for long under anyone other than Jerry Sloan, the very guy whom he reportedly drove into retirement a few weeks before the Jazz put Williams on a giant slingshot out of town.

During these last two months, Williams hasn't been nearly as cheery as he was in training camp, a sign of just how quickly the mood has changed around the Nets.

"There's no finger-pointing going on,'' Williams said. "It's not one guy. It's not two guys. It's a team effort, and so we're trying to figure it out, and hopefully we can.''

But chances are the Nets won't unless he starts playing consistently at an All-Star level.

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