EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The day after scoring 29 points and leading the Nets to a convincing win over the Knicks, Deron Williams was one of the last players on the court at practice Saturday, working to improve on a shot that had fallen for him 10 of 15 times Friday night.
Staying late and putting in extra work is one thing that Williams finds he is able to do this season. In the two previous seasons, injuries prevented him from being the player he knew he should have been.
"I wouldn't be able to come in and shoot shots the next day like this," Williams said. "I would be in so much pain that I wouldn't be able to do that. So that makes a difference, just as far as rhythm.
"This is my job. I need to be able to practice, I need to be able to get up extra shots and be, you know, who I want to be."
Williams was in a good mood because for the first time in two years, he is healthy after undergoing offseason surgery on both ankles to remove bone spurs and loose bone fragments that had plagued him since the 2012 Olympics. Now Williams is reminding the NBA how good he was before the ankle problems slowed him down.
Through five games this season, Williams is averaging 19.8 points and 7.0 assists per game and is shooting 47.3 percent from the floor. A year ago, in only 64 games, he averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent.
"He's played well," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. "I had nothing but high expectations that he would. I tried to tell everybody that you can't play this game when you're injured, and he has been injured the last couple of years. And he's healthy now, so it's a matter of getting in conditioning and getting his confidence to believe that he is healthy and he can do what he wants to do."
Williams said he was never fully healthy at any point last season, but he thought it was more important for him to play at 50 or 60 percent effectiveness rather than not play. He said he didn't like talking about his injuries last season and doesn't want anyone feeling sorry for him. He did say he wishes he'd had the surgery on his ankles sooner than he did, but he added that suffering through the last two seasons has made him mentally stronger. He also predicted he'll have more performances like Friday's this season.
"Before my injuries, I didn't feel like anybody could stop me one-on-one," Williams said. "I've had Bruce Bowen on me; Ron Artest has guarded me when we played the Lakers in the playoffs. I just feel like if you put one person on me, it's going to be hard to stop me. I'm getting back to that."
Now that Williams is back to his old self, if oft-injured center Brook Lopez can stay healthy, he said the Nets can be better than people expect.
"We feel like we have three guys that can be All-Stars [Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson]; we have a future Hall of Famer [Kevin Garnett] that's still a great player, and we have a great group of bench guys, role players, guys that nobody really knows about," Williams said. "Staying healthy is going to be key, but we feel like we can be a good team. And we're cool . . . with flying under the radar."