Celtics

Williams Becoming Valuable Commodity for Boston

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The Boston Celtics have three All-Star-caliber scorers, but surprisingly Grant Williams has been the team’s most accurate three-point shooter through Boston’s first 22 games.

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The former Tennessee Volunteer standout is shooting an impressive 46.7% from three-point range in his sophomore campaign. Frequently hitting sidestep and step-back jumpers, it’s hard to believe this is the same Williams who missed his first 25 three-point attempts as a rookie last season.

Williams has found his shooting stroke and his confidence. After living with Kemba Walker when last season was suspended, Williams entered the NBA bubble looking like a completely different player on offense.

Enes Kanter said on his podcast last July that Williams was “making 3s like crazy” during Boston’s initial practices in the bubble.

“The Celtics fans might not believe this but he is one of like the most sharpest shooters on the team,” said Kanter. “I think he worked so hard during the quarantine time, now he’s like a 3-man… I’m excited about him.”

After knocking down 10-of-17 three-pointers in the playoffs (58.8%), Williams has carried that encouraging momentum into this season. His impressive play indicates that he is ready to seize a leading role for Boston’s bench as a versatile 3-and-D specialist.

Matching Marcus Smart‘s Mentality

Like his teammate and mentor Marcus Smart, Williams contributes in ways that don’t show up in the box score.

The 6’6” Williams is a tenacious defender who uses physicality to disrupt taller opponents. He takes charges, dives for loose balls and does all the dirty work to make life easier for his team.

Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens fully understand the value of hardworking role players who take pride in defense and physicality. It’s no surprise that Williams also quickly earned the respect of his All-Star teammates.

Williams proudly models his mentality after Smart. Both players exert relentless effort as intelligent, versatile and communicative defenders who play effectively at multiple positions.

As Forbes’ Sean Deveney reported last season, Williams “studied the 5. Heck, Williams studies the 3, too. As well as the 2 and the 1.”

With Boston’s roster crowded at the center and small-forward positions, Williams is the team’s one true power forward. But his flexibility and dedicated defensive mentality help him frequently step up in crunch-time situations.

Stepping Up in Smart’s Absence

When Smart suffered a calf injury against the Lakers right before Boston started a brutal five-game West Coast road trip, the Celtics needed other players to step up and preserve their defensive identity.

Williams answered the call, providing solid defense and pouring in a season-high 15 points (4-4 FG, 3-3 3PT) during their 111-107 victory over the Warriors on Tuesday.

“Smart, being the heart and soul of our team, being the guy that leads us on that end of the court, with him being out, we have to step up,” Williams told reporters after the win.

“My job was being able to communicate what was coming and be able to help guys understand that there is a priority on the court and make sure to get there and cover each other and have each other’s backs.”

By becoming a vocal defensive leader, Williams now plays a vital role for Boston’s second unit.

“I trust him,” said Jayson Tatum on Tuesday night. “We trust him in the biggest moments to come in and do what we need him to do. And that’s to make winning plays.”

If Williams can make a habit out of producing winning plays, it would greatly help the Celtics with Smart expected to be sidelined for the next few weeks.

During Friday’s win against the Clippers, Williams came up clutch again shooting 3-4 from three-point range and playing terrific defense on Kawhi Leonard all night long.

Understanding his Role

With Williams’ confidence and field-goal percentage simultaneously climbing, Williams says he is “definitely more comfortable” than last season.

“With this team, you got to take the open look,” Williams said on Tuesday. “We have a lot of talented players that get you great looks and you can’t be shy to take them.”

His improved shooting also helps stretch opposing defenses and open scoring lanes for Walker, Tatum and Jaylen Brown to attack the basket.

Despite early shooting struggles as a rookie last season, the 22nd overall pick in the 2019 Draft has developed into one of Boston’s most promising role players.

Williams fully understands and embraces his role. He plays with a defense-first mentality, high basketball IQ and a steadily improving three-point shot.

He has converted at least one triple in 13-of-19 games this season. Last year, Williams didn’t make his first three-pointer until his 21st game.

But while Williams has shown tremendous early improvement, the 22-year-old forward has plenty of room to further grow into a more complete player.

Staying out of Foul Trouble

Some of Williams’ most obvious struggles this season have revolved around foul trouble. To put it simply, Williams commits too many fouls on defense and struggles at the free-throw line on offense.

During Boston’s loss in Sacramento on Wednesday, Williams got into early foul trouble and later missed a crucial free throw in the game’s final seconds. The undersized big man plays with great physicality, but bites on too many pump fakes and has committed 5.7 fouls per 36 minutes this season.

In other words, Williams would essentially be on pace to foul out of every game if he played regular starters’ minutes. Fouls were an issue for Williams last season too when he averaged 5.6 fouls per 36 in the regular season and 7.0 fouls per 36 in the postseason.

To permanently establish himself in the Celtics’ rotation, Williams needs to become a more disciplined defender and stay out of foul trouble. He also needs to make his free throws.

Williams’ free-throw percentage inexplicably dropped from 72.2% last season to just 53.8% this season. Additionally, he struggles to score inside the paint.

But if he can just hit foul shots and keep working on his post-move arsenal while learning to use his body more effectively to create space against opponents, then Williams will become much more dangerous on the offensive end.

Williamses are the Future in Boston

Stevens has experimented with various starting lineups this season, but the tandem of Grant and Robert Williams could soon become Boston’s most effective frontcourt duo.

The young Williamses are on the rise. Their respective contributions on the court arguably complement Boston’s All-Star starters better than Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis.

Grant barks out defensive assignments and uses his physicality and quickness to alter shots, while Robert exhibits incredible athleticism to block shots and force misses.

On offense, Grant helps stretch opposing defenses with a reliable jump shot, while Robert commands the paint, throws down alley-oop slams and viciously attacks the offensive glass.

Look for Boston’s backup frontcourt to continue steadily improving as they grow more comfortable and earn more minutes.

On Thursday, Ainge revealed in an interview with “Toucher & Rich” on 98.5 The Sports Hub that he intends to target players with “shooting” and “size” at the trade deadline.

But until a trade happens, the Williamses will lead the second unit while occasionally finding themselves in the starting lineup due to injuries, COVID-19 protocol and other factors.

The Celtics have a 2-4 record in Grant’s six starts this season with all coming in games when either Tatum or Brown were unavailable.

Bill Russell Seal of Approval

Off the court, Williams is outspoken on social-justice issues and has become a great role model for young people.

He is not shy about voicing his support for the WNBA and frequently speaks up about systemic racism and other social issues.

Williams’ mentorship program with a group of African American and Hispanic teenagers around the Boston area led to him receiving the Bill Russell Mentoring Award last month.

Leading his students and connecting with them over Zoom calls during the pandemic, Williams formed a close bond with his mentees and taught them to prioritize academics over basketball.

Williams, whose mother is a NASA engineer and father was once a bodyguard for Prince, has a great head on his shoulders and a broad set of interests.

The 2x SEC Player of the Year at Tennessee and consensus first-team All-American in 2019 graduated in three years with a business degree before declaring for the Draft.

As the cousin of former NBA players Damon Stoudamire and Salim Stoudamire, Williams set his eyes on the NBA at a young age. But that did not stop him from pursuing other interests and actively setting himself up for life after basketball.

It is awesome to see Williams giving back to the community, passing valuable knowledge and life lessons on to the next generation.

For the new fan-favorite in Boston, look for Williams to continue improving and making winning plays as a solid staple in Stevens’ rotation as he helps the rising Celtics push closer to Banner 18.

Follow us on Twitter @CelticsLead for the latest Celtics news and insight. 

About Jon Jacobson

NBA Content Writer and Multimedia Producer. Twitter: @Jon_NBA

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