Shortly after he was hired by the Boston Celtics this past June, Ime Udoka got a call from Grant Williams. The 22-year-old forward wanted to know exactly what his new head coach wanted him to work on during the summer so that he could come into his third NBA season ready to make an impact.
“Some of those things,” Udoka told Celtics.com Sunday afternoon, “were being in shape, being able to guard, and shooting the ball – improving his shot.”
So, Williams got to work and has been checking off each of those boxes, one by one.
Williams showed up to training camp around 15 pounds lighter, with the hope of dropping another 10 during the season. Slimming down has allowed him to defend with more versatility, and to cut to the basket with greater ease on offense. And his shot has spoken for itself in the first two preseason games, as he’s connected on 5-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
During a 113-111 win over Toronto Saturday night, Williams led all Celtics bench scorers with 12 points in 16 minutes. He also made some noise at the rim on both ends of the court, as he blocked a dunk attempt and threw down an athletic, cutting slam of his own.
“That dunk made me feel a little bit happier,” Williams said with a smile after the game. “I’m getting in the air a little bit, feeling a little bit lighter on my feet, defending a little bit better, trying to improve every single day.”
Part of that improvement comes from studying the game more intently. In particular, he’s been observing Al Horford’s day-to-day approach, hoping to pick some things up from the five-time All-Star.
In doing so, he hopes to have a “Baby Al” type of role this season.
“When you are around a guy like Al, he just does a lot of things you see on film that not many people normally do,” said Williams, who averaged 4.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game last season while playing 18.1 minutes per contest. “Just through watching him, how his approach is every single day and how he moves every single practice -- he may not be the fastest dude in the world, he may not be the most athletic right now, but he knows the game and he sees it really well.”
Horford, meanwhile, has observed that Williams is picking things up at a rapid pace.
“Grant, from what I've seen with him, he's kind of like a sponge,” said Horford, who assisted on Williams’ cutting dunk against the Raptors. “He's just picking things up, he receives things. And he's shooting the ball right now with a lot of confidence. The other part of his game is continuing to find ways of cutting and moving to impact the game, and he did a good job of that [Saturday night].”
If Williams continues to impact the game in such a manner, then he’ll put himself in a solid position to snag some of the power forward minutes that are currently up for grabs. Udoka likes what the 6-foot-6, 236-pound forward brings to the table as a non-traditional big, especially now that he’s able to move better and provide more defensive versatility.
The coach remembers seeing such defensive potential in Williams two seasons ago when he and Horford were with the 76ers.
“Against us in Philadelphia a few years ago in the playoffs, he was really a big piece for them defensively at the small-ball 5,” Udoka recalled. “Then the way he shot the ball took us out of some coverages there numbers-wise.
“Those are the things I stress with him. It starts with your shot, decision making and then being able to guard. And he's taken that to heart. You can see he looks better physically overall, and it's translated to what he's done in camp.”
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