Milwaukee » Somewhere on the way to reaching the Western Conference finals, earning second-team all-NBA honors, signing a max contract extension and being selected to the U.S. Olympic team, Jazz guard Deron Williams skipped a step.
The hole in Williams' résumé his first three seasons as a pro came with never having been chosen to play in the All-Star Game. The expectation coming into this season was that Williams wouldn't have to wait long for his overdue coronation.
That all changed, however, as soon as Williams went down with a sprained left ankle in the preseason. Nearly a month after returning, Williams still isn't the same player and his ascent to becoming an All-Star is anything but guaranteed.
"I didn't start the season healthy, so I'm not really worried about it," Williams said. "After not making it the last two seasons, I'm even more not worried about it."
As the Jazz practiced Monday in Chicago, Williams again was on the sidelines, this time nursing a bruised right calf. He is expected to play tonight as the Jazz finish their five-game pre-Christmas trip against the Bucks.
It will be Williams' 15th game since returning for good Nov. 26 from the ankle injury, which kept him sidelined for 5½ weeks, aside from a premature two-game return. Even with no way of knowing, Williams admitted he expected to be 100 percent by now.
"I could be a lot better than where I am," Williams said. "That's how injuries go. It takes time to get back in the swing of things. I feel like I'm just now getting back. My ankle's feeling a lot better and I'm dealing with other stuff."
Williams had a breakthrough 29-point game Friday at Detroit, but still is struggling with his explosion and ability to take over games. A trio of quick, young guards -- Devin Harris, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose -- have proved especially difficult for Williams to slow.
"Deron hasn't been on top of his game, but I think he's certainly come around a lot more the last three or four games he's played," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I think you can all see a difference in his activity, his liveliness."
Ronnie Brewer said he could tell the severity of Williams' sprain just from looking at his ankle every day in the training room. He said it was more remarkable that Williams was playing at all, as opposed to still being limited a month into his return.
"His confidence is getting there," Brewer said. "I think you saw it in the Detroit game. He's not 100 percent, and it's still a mental thing, what he can and can't do on his ankle.
"You can't replace those 13 games, so every game he's back, it's like he's trying to get back to where he was before he got hurt."
Whether Williams still can make the All-Star team is another story. He has effectively lost two months of games, the first of which he sat out injured, the second of which he spent playing through pain.
When the first All-Star returns were released earlier this month, Williams didn't even register among the top 11 Western Conference guards. His numbers so far -- 14.3 points, 9.8 assists, 44.0 percent shooting -- all are down compared with last season. Williams still ranks second to Chris Paul in the league in assists per game.
Based on the early returns from fan voting, Kobe Bryant and Paul are likely to start for the West, along with Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire and Yao Ming.
For his part, Williams hasn't generated the buzz of Chauncey Billups, who has helped Denver to a 17-10 record since arriving from Detroit, and lacks the defining moment of Portland's Brandon Roy, who scorched Phoenix for 52 points Thursday.
Williams said Monday that he considered Roy an already certain All-Star. That would leave one guard spot for the likes of Williams, Steve Nash, Tony Parker or Jason Kidd. Nash could have an edge with the game being played in Phoenix.
The NBA will announce All-Star starters Jan. 22 and reserves Jan. 29. Williams said Monday that "there's still a lot of time to play" and make his case for being selected.
"If we as a team have a big January, that's the most important thing," said Williams, who will start the month with Carlos Boozer still recovering from a left knee injury.
If Williams is not selected, the Jazz might go unrepresented in Phoenix, with Boozer having missed 17 games and counting with a strained quadriceps tendon and bone bruise and Andrei Kirilenko having tailed off after a strong start as the Jazz's sixth man.
Thanks to his sprained left ankle, Jazz guard Deron Williams no longer is the All-Star lock he was to start the season. A look at how Williams stacks up among the field of Western Conference guards.
Leading the fan voting
|Kobe Bryant||L.A. Lakers||25.8||4.2||5.4||21-5|
|Chris Paul||New Orleans||20.3||11.8||5.3||16-7|
The rest of the field
|Tony Parker||San Antonio||20.6||6.5||3.1||16-10|