Having been a pretty fair point guard in his day, Maurice Cheeks knows what he wants to see in young players learning the position, particularly keeping turnovers to a minimum.
That's what he has liked about watching Louis Williams lately. Williams, the 76ers' second-round draft pick in 2005 out of a suburban Atlanta high school, slowly has made the transition from scorer to playmaker this season - something that has pleased his coach.
"Louis has come a long way," Cheeks said yesterday after running his young players through a workout at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "His game is not based upon scoring. He can score the ball. He is becoming a pretty good point guard. His assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty good."
Williams' ratio has been especially good in his last 11 games, with 28 assists, including a career-high-tying six in Wednesday's win over the New York Knicks, against five turnovers. This compares to 48 assists and 29 turnovers in his 42 games before that.
"I try to always make good plays," the 6-foot-1 Williams said. "I really think about the turnovers. That one turnover I had [against the Knicks] killed me because I basically tried to lay the ball up before I had it, and that was the only one. So those are the plays I really concentrate on."
It's quite a change from high school. Williams scored 3,338 points at South Gwinnett High and won the 2005 Naismith Award as the nation's top high school player. He passed on a chance to go to the University of Georgia and made himself eligible for the NBA draft but lasted until pick No. 45, when the Sixers tabbed him.
Williams languished on the bench last season and gradually has come on this season. A big factor in his development was Cheeks' decision in late January to move Williams to backup point guard ahead of veteran Kevin Ollie.
"It's been huge for my confidence," Williams said. "A young guy coming into this league, when you don't play you start to doubt yourself, start to wonder if you can play at this level. So just for me to get a couple of things accomplished on the court and to be able to contribute has been a tremendous help to my confidence."
Cheeks gave Williams, as well as rookies Rodney Carney and Bobby Jones, meaningful minutes against the Knicks. That meant Williams was on the floor for the final 3 minutes, 27 seconds of the third quarter when New York's torrid Stephon Marbury was in the middle of a run of 18 straight points.
"For me to come in and have to guard him when he was dead-on hot, it helped me defensively," Williams said. "I realized I had to stay in front of him. I had to concentrate on just keeping up. He was shooting a lot of deep three-pointers, so I just wanted to get a hand up. So it helped out."
The learning experience will continue as the Sixers' season winds down, and Williams likes this playmaking gig.
"It's definitely different," he said. "In high school, I judged a good game on whether I had 25 to 30 points. Here, it's just making sure we win basketball games and maintain leads and make sure guys like Kyle [Korver] and Andre [Iguodala] get their shots."
And for sure, Cheeks will be watching him.
"I'm going to be on Louis a little bit more because I'm going to expect a little bit more," the coach said.
Notes. Williams will host the Sixers' "Caps for Kids Drive" tonight at the Wachovia Center when his team takes on the Toronto Raptors. Fans are encouraged to bring a new children's baseball cap, with each donation earning an invitation to a postgame autograph session with Williams. The caps will be donated to local pediatric oncology units.