Season Refresh Chapter: Grant Williams

BOSTON – Grant Williams has been a breath of fresh air both on and off the court for the Boston Celtics since they drafted him June 20.

On the court, he has been a contributing piece of the rotation as an undersized-yet-versatile big man who possesses an elite basketball IQ.

Off the court, Williams has brought a fun loving, positive personality to the locker room and to the community each and every day.

Not a bad start to a career.

The joyful big man, who stands in at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds, has washed away some analysts’ pre-Draft concerns about which position he would play in the pros. Boston viewed him simply as a basketball player, and that’s how the team has used him through the first 62 appearances of his career.

According to basketball-reference.com, Williams has played 56 percent of his possessions at power forward, 31 percent of his possessions at small forward, and 14 percent of his possessions as a “small-ball” center for Boston. That last position is important, because two of Boston’s top six five-man lineups in terms of plus/minus rating, and three of its top nine five-man lineups overall (minimum of five games played), featured Williams at the center position.

It’s no wonder why many have compared Williams to three-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion Draymond Green, who served as Golden State’s small-ball center throughout its recent dynasty. Green stands in at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds – nearly identical to Williams.

Similar to Green, the key factors behind Williams’ impact are his basketball IQ, his athleticism and his strength.

Very few players walk into the league with the level of intelligence that Williams has. He quickly learned the ins and outs of Boston’s offense, which has allowed him to regularly be in the right place at the right time at both ends of the court. Brad Stevens called him “really smart” during training camp and has on many occasions highlighted the big man’s IQ. Stevens has even relied on the rookie to be the team’s inbounder on critical late-game possessions – a significant sign of trust on the court.

Williams has been an important piece of Boston’s defense thanks to his combination of athleticism and strength. His agility allows him to switch onto and defend any position, while his strength allows him to match up with players who are much larger than he is. This is a critical role for a Celtics team that oftentimes plays smaller than its opponents.

At this point, we’re nearly 400 words into our season refresh for Williams and we have yet to mention a single statistic. Why? Because Williams is a role player on this team – one who is concerned only with helping the team to win games.

Still, there are some numbers that we should outline regarding Williams’ rookie campaign thus far.

The forward got off to a rough start shooting the basketball from long range. He missed the first 25 3-pointers of his career, but has since made 35.0 percent of his attempts from long distance – a very respectable rate. It sounds as if his 3-point shot became even sharper during the NBA’s hiatus, too.

“He is making 3s like crazy, I promise,” Enes Kanter recently said on his podcast with NBCSB. “The Celtics fans might not believe this, but he is one of like the most sharpest shooters on the team. I think he worked so hard during the quarantine time. Now he’s like a 3-man.”

In addition to his 3-point shooting, Williams has also provided six games of double-digit scoring, 16 games of at least four rebounds, 17 games with at least one steal, and 23 games with at least one blocked shot. He also logged a plus/minus rating of plus-10 or better during 14 of his 62 appearances.

Those are all impressive numbers for a guy who only five times has played more than 25 minutes, and who averages just 15.6 minutes of action per contest.

Williams maxed out at 18 points during a Dec. 20 win over the Detroit Pistons. That game featured career highs both in scoring and in minutes played (30 minutes).

His most impactful games, however, have been far more subtle in the box score. On the night during which he logged a career-best plus/minus rating of plus-23, he scored just 12 points to go along with four rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a blocked shot. The next four games on his list of top plus/minus performances – which featured plus/minus ratings of plus-18, plus-17 (twice) and plus-16 – featured averages of just 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists 0.8 steals and 1.75 blocks per game.

Those are the type of numbers that are more typical for Williams. Not because he’s incapable of filling a box score, but instead because of his role on this team. He is a glue guy who is asked to defend above and below his size, to be in the right place at the right time at both ends of the floor, and to occasionally make a few open shots.

He has excelled within that role through the first 62 games of his career. There’s no reason to expect that to change during the NBA’s restart in Florida.

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