TORONTO (AP) — What started as a song has become reality for Raptors guard Lou Williams.
Williams won the NBA Sixth Man Award on Monday, honored as the league’s best reserve after averaging a career-best 15.5 points in his 10th season and helping Toronto win a franchise-record 49 games.
“It couldn’t happen at a better time for me,” Williams said as he picked up the award in a ceremony at a downtown hotel with several teammates, his mother, brother, two daughters and his former high school coach watching. “Everything is right in the world.”
Williams was mentioned in the lyrics of the song “6 Man” by Toronto rapper Drake, who is also the Raptors’ global ambassador. The song came out in February, right around the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
“Drake got it right,” Raptors forward Patrick Patterson said. “He made the song for a reason. He predicted the future.”
Williams, who also appeared in the song’s video, called the experience “cool.”
“I have a soundtrack to go with the award,” he said.
What did Drake give him for his efforts?
“I got like 100,000 Instagram followers,” Williams said, laughing.
The first Raptor to win the award, Williams received 78 first-place votes and 502 points from a panel of 130 sports writers and broadcasters throughout the U.S. and Canada. Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics finished second with 324 points (33 first-place votes). Two-time winner Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers was third with 131 points (eight first-place votes).
Teammate DeMar DeRozan praised Williams for the spark he gave Toronto’s offense.
“He’s a lethal dude to have coming off the bench” DeRozan said. “He’ll affect the game so much by getting to the free throw line, drawing fouls, getting teams in the penalty and running off 12 or 13 points in eight minutes.”
Williams came off the bench in all 80 of his appearances and averaged 25.2 minutes. He led or tied for the team lead in scoring 18 times, second-most in the league for a reserve. The Raptors went 14-4 in those games.
“Without him, we’d have been in trouble,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
For Williams, the award is especially meaningful because it proves he has put two injury-plagued seasons behind him.
“Today is a special day just to commemorate everything I’ve been through,” he said.
It’s a day Williams wasn’t sure he’d ever see after tearing a ligament in his right knee in January 2013 while playing for Atlanta.
“That was the closest I felt to retirement,” Williams said. “It’s scary.”
While his knee now feels stronger than ever, the injury robbed Williams of much of his explosiveness.
“I can’t jump and I can’t run,” he laughed. “Those are two very important things in basketball.”
Fortunately, he can still shoot. Williams led the Raptors in free throw percentage (86.1) and made a career-high 152 3-pointers. He said 3-point shooting was something he worked on last summer as he struggled to overcome the injury, “knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to beat guys off the dribble as I once was.”
Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri called Williams “a spectacular player.”
“He’s done far and beyond what we expected,” Ujiri said.
“Nobody kind of knew what he was going to bring to the table,” Casey said, “whether he was damaged goods or whatever. He’s proved to everybody that he’s the old Lou Williams.”
Acquired from the Hawks along with backup center Lucas Nogueria for John Salmons and a second-round draft pick, Williams becomes a free agent this summer but said he’s comfortable in Toronto.
“In my 10-year career, I’ve never been over to my different teammates’ homes as much as I have with this group,” he said. “We sit around, we watch games, we break down games, we talk about our team. Just the camaraderie and the bond that these guys have is completely different than I’ve experienced on other teams.”