(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)
By Jesse Cinquini
There’s so much more to the game of basketball than scoring. Yes, it may be what draws eyeballs, but in reality it’s merely a component of the sport. Since the league’s inception, there has existed valuable albeit non-glamorous contributors who embrace doing the dirty work. Setting picks, taking charges, fighting for loose balls. These aren’t recorded on the stat sheet per say, but that doesn’t mitigate their importance to winning.
Grant Williams, a 21-year-old former Tennessee standout, epitomizes the phrase “winning player”. The rook became a mainstay in Brad Stevens’ rotation due to his jack-of-all-trades skill set. It’s time to explore how he earned that rotation spot and what he needs to improve upon.
What Williams lacks in height (6’6″) he makes up for with brute strength. Weighing in at 236 pounds, Grant’s physique is eerily reminiscent to that of Draymond Green’s (although he lacks Draymond’s notorious wingspan.) And if Green has proved anything over his illustrious career, it’s that undersized tweeners have a place in the modern NBA.
Also like Draymond, Williams is an upper-echelon screen-setter. For a perimeter-oriented club such as Boston, the value of setting solid, bone-crushing picks cannot be understated. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker all shoot the ball from deep with above-average accuracy. Is Grant’s ability to dispel defenders partly responsible for the trio’s scorching three-point shooting? You betcha.
His picks resulted in numerous open looks for the Celtics’ stars, particularly in catch and shoot situations. Williams’ screens oftentimes halt the opponent dead in their tracks. Grant’s muscle takes wings out of the play, thus giving Boston’s perimeter marksmen ample room to fire.
Williams occassionally functioned as a sealer as well. He must’ve learned a thing or two from his teammate, Daniel Theis. Sealing helps to open up what would be a clogged painted area. It creates driving lanes for scoring opportunities at the basket. Most important of all, it prevents rim protectors from stymieing said shots.
Grant’s prowess as a screener and sealer points to his tremendous feel for the game. His basketball IQ is off the charts. Want proof? Mosey on down to the next section of this rookie review.
There’s a years old adage that goes as follows: “he was one step ahead of the play.” A legend such as Larry Bird is probably who you associate this saying with. Make no mistake, I am in no way comparing Bird to Williams. But Grant displayed that he can in fact think ahead of the defense when facilitating the rock. He’s not going to wow anyone with playmaking wizardry. Rather, Williams reads the defense intelligently and makes timely passes.
Grant ranked in the 81st percentile among all bigs in assist to usage ratio, according to Cleaning the Glass. With the ball in his hands at the top of the key, he can spot cutters diving to the cup. His vision in the half-court is excellent; he surveys the floor and is able to thread the needle with pinpoint dimes. Not only that, he’s also capable of orchestrating the fastbreak. Grant has a tight handle for a big; he doesn’t appear out of control when dribbling the length of the court. The same cannot be said for many of the league’s interior players.
Williams’ quality facilitating is a trait that blends beautifully with Boston’s personnel. Considering they’re loaded with gifted offensive talents, the neophyte has the teammates he needs to continue to rack up assists. On most other teams, there would likely be more pressure on Grant to score. But the Celtics aren’t most other teams. They’re a title contender with a bevy of weapons, so they don’t necessarily need him to put points on the board.
Blocks, Strength In The Paint & Footspeed
Defensively, Grant came into the league with a particular question mark surrounding him. No one would question his core strength but, would he be long enough to defend the rim? Additionally, would he have enough footspeed to guard quick fours and switch onto guards along the perimeter?
Williams showed he might have just enough agility to make those switches. Plus, on the occasions he gets burnt he makes up for it by using his high IQ. Grant is no stranger to shading attackers into the help or bumping guards early into their drive to slow them down. Also, check out his recovery speed during a weakside block at the end of this clip.
What also stood out from William’s rookie year was his show of literal strength. Despite being undersized for either the four or five slots, he still spent 37 percent of his time as a center. Sam Vecenie delineated how his strength testing numbers were almost off of the charts during his draft combine days. This attribute helped im successfully man the paint at time for the Cs.
Below, take a minute to watch how his forcefulness keeps defenders from gaining ground towards the bucket. Although Williams may not be able to play as a small ball five for too long of stretches, Stevens can have confidence strategically playing him when he spots a weakness to exploit.
Offseason To-Do List
Improve the jumper. It took Williams 20 games to find the range on a three-pointer. He missed his first 25 treys as a pro. Admittedly, he did fare better from beyond the arc to cap off the season. Although, it wasn’t enough to salvage what was a disappointing maiden campaign in terms of outside shooting.
On 1.4 tries nightly, just 24.7 percent of Grant’s triples found the bottom of the net. As the year progressed, it got to the point where teams were daring him to shoot. He averaged 0.9 wide open threes per game. Williams has to make the opposition pay for sagging off of him. Developing a respectable shooting stroke should be tops on the youngster’s to-do list.
Perimeter woes aside, there’s a lot to like about the Swiss army knife forward. The multitude of ways in which Grant impacts winning is what’ll lead to him enjoying a prolonged and successful NBA career. There’s no doubt he’ll be a fan favorite in Boston before long.