Celtics Big Man Fighting Hard for Rotation Minutes

Boston Celtics Grant Williams

Getty Boston Celtics big man Grant Williams poses during the 2019 NBA rookie photoshoot.

The Boston Celtics have seen a number of strong performances from bench players over the course of the preseason. During the team’s October 9 win over the Toronto Raptors, though, third-year power forward Grant Williams showed off some particularly exciting offensive prowess.

Williams led the Beantowners’ bench effort that night by scoring 12 points and hitting two of his four shot attempts from three-point range. He also threw down a gnarly slam on some off-ball action after a slick feed from Al Horford.

It was a play that served as proof of concept for the work he put in over the summer to slim down and make himself more viable offensively, as both a cutter and a shooter/scorer. And Williams is all about the progression.

“That dunk made me feel a little bit more happy,” Williams said, via CLNS Media. “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.”

That improvement could be the key to Williams securing his spot amid the glut of bigs currently filling the Celtics’ frontcourt.

Matching Defense With Offense

Since the earliest days of his Celtics career, Williams has left little doubt about his defensive potential. As a rookie, he averaged 2.2 combined blocks and steals per 36 minutes. He put up some impressive defensive statistics last season, too. Of the team’s most-utilized players in 2020-21 (those with at least 1000 minutes played), Williams had Boston’s best defensive rating at 109.3.

Additionally, opponents’ field goal percentages dropped by 2% compared to their norms when Williams was the closest defender, per the NBA‘s tracking data. That number hit 5.3% on shot attempts within 10 feet of the hoop.

His offense has been slower going, though.

Williams has yet to eclipse 5.0 points per contest as a pro, and he’s just a 32% three-point shooter for his career (although that number did hit 37.2% last season). For the most part, he has been fairly one-dimensional in when and where he gets his points. However, he’s working to adapt to Ime Udoka’s new offense, where ball movement and cutting are a way of life.

According to Williams, some of that evolution has come with experience, too.

“They always say that the game really slows down as time goes on,” he said after the Raptors game. “So, I saw it through my second year and, now, seeing it more through my third, just spacing-wise — seeing where to be on the court, when to cut, when to space and just understanding teammates a little bit better.”

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A Crowded Room

Whether Williams can have a bigger impact for the Celtics in 2021-22 remains to be seen. He may be making strides as a two-way four man and a small-ball five, but Udoka has no shortage of other options.

After catching on with the Celtics late last season, Jabari Parker is still in the mix. He and Williams are joined by returning Celtic Enes Kanter — a certified double-double machine — and Juancho Hernangomez, who actually started at power forward in Boston’s preseason opener. Elsewhere on the roster, Horford has the ability to play at the four and the five for Udoka and Robert Williams is the team’s center of the future (and, likely, present).

Clearly, though, Williams is making a case with his preseason play.


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