BOSTON – For the longest time, the Boston Celtics relied upon one player – Marcus Smart – to be the sole actor in their 'Mr. Intangibles' act, always being in the right place at the right time, always sacrificing his body, and always displaying elite hustle and grit, all for the betterment of the team.
Now, it appears, they have added a second member to the performance.
Grant Williams is only 10 games into his NBA career but has already showcased many of the intangibles around which Smart has built a strong reputation during his six-year career. Both players are statistical anomalies who rarely log significant numbers in the box score, but almost always make a significant impact.
The similarities between the two players are so profound that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens went as far as to, without prior suggestion, compare the two players this past week.
“He has a feel for the game, especially defensively,” Stevens said of Williams Nov. 7 in Charlotte. “He’s not as athletic as Marcus (Smart), but the understanding of when to help – maybe a little bit of overhelp right now, but he’s got a real good sense of the game.”
The comparison to Smart is not something Williams takes lightly.
“To be compared to Marcus is always incredible to me,” Williams told Celtics.com, “because he’s a six-year vet, and he’s a guy that’s been playing for the Celtics for all these six years, been on the same team, embraced by the community. He’s someone you aspire to be.”
Williams is certainly following in Smart’s footsteps, and Stevens isn’t the only person who has noticed. Smart has also gone on the record to Celtics.com in stating that he sees quite a bit of himself in his rookie teammate.
“A lot (of similarities),” he said. “It’s incredible.”
What’s incredible is that these two players are separated by five years, by three inches, by 20 pounds, and by at least a couple of slots on the position chart, yet when all is said and done, they’re known for bringing the exact same intangibles to the game. Not surprisingly, they feed off of each other for that very reason.
“He helps me a lot as well, especially when he’s on the court with me,” Smart said of Williams, “because I’m not the only one out there diving. I know for sure that Grant, when he’s on the court, he’s going to take charges with me. I know that he’s going to go and protect that rim.
“We’re undersized,” he continued, “but we play like we’re 6-9 and above.”
In other words, both players have the heart of a lion, a similarity of which Williams is very proud to share.
“When it comes to the effort and the passion that we play with, I feel like that’s something similar between the two of us,” Williams said, “that we’re willing to sacrifice for our team, we’re willing to put our bodies on the line, and it’s something that you take pride in.”
Many others are taking notice of these shared characteristics between Smart and Williams. One of those people is three-time All-Star and All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker.
Walker spent five seasons playing against Smart, so he knows all too well what the 6-foor-3 guard is all about. Williams, on the other hand, is a newbie in the league, and Walker has only had a short time to learn what the rookie is made of. Still, Walker lights up when discussing Williams and what the forward has proven since training camp opened more than six weeks ago.
“I love that kid,” Walker said Oct. 25 in Boston, after Williams, at 6-foot-6, defended 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol at a high level. “He has great energy. He’s super tough. He wants that. He wants those battles.”
Truth be told, that’s exactly why the Celtics drafted Williams with the 22nd overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. They wanted that.
Danny Ainge didn’t snag Williams thinking that the forward would come in and help by stuffing box scores with gaudy numbers. He drafted Williams thinking that the forward would come in and help by stuffing notches into Boston’s win column.
The same can be said with regard to Ainge’s selection of Smart with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 Draft. Smart, like Williams, averaged 18 or more points per game during his final collegiate season, but the C’s selected Smart because of his elite competitive nature.
As Ainge said of Smart after the draft in 2014, “He plays with great fire. He’s one of the top competitors that I’ve seen all around the world watching basketball.”
Williams is cut from the exact same cloth. He, like Smart, has a unique competitive nature burning inside of him. Williams cares about one thing and one thing only when it comes to basketball: winning.
“That’s always been my main focus: how our team is doing and what we accomplish,” he said before his first game as a pro. He added, “For me, it’s always been about however you can impact winning and however you can impact a game and do what coach needs you to do.”
And when he says impacting winning has “always” been his main focus, he means that quite literally.
Williams recalled his early days playing basketball, when he began to mold himself into the player he is today. Even then, as a youngster in North Carolina, he was more intrigued by the little things on the court than he was by the sexy things on the court.
“A lot of people growing up, their parents and everyone wants you to score the basketball and stuff, and that’s the biggest priority for everyone,” he stated. “But for me, I always viewed the game differently. I thought if everyone looks to score, there’s not many people looking to defend, not many people looking to take charges, to block shots, to rebound the basketball.”
Nearly a decade later, as a 20-year-old man, Williams has found his calling doing those exact things as a member of the Boston Celtics. He is relishing the opportunity to do the dirty work for his team to help it succeed.
Likewise, his teammates, and in particular, Smart, are relishing the opportunity to be by his side throughout it all.
“It feels good when you have a guy like that,” Smart said of Williams, “a guy that’s just ready to listen and learn and he just helps the team in all aspects.”
Celtics players have felt that way about Smart for the last five-plus years. It’s about time he found a teammate for whom he can feel the exact same way.
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