Enes Kanter and Grant Williams are an unlikely front court pairing in today’s NBA. Neither has proven to be a particularly effective shooter. Kanter - whose range is limited to somewhere around the free throw line - spends the majority of his time ramming his body into opponents by the basket, whether he has the ball or not.
Williams has, at least, some theoretical shooting touch, but Boston’s stout young forward famously started his career 0-of-25 from beyond the arc, and is currently shooting just 17.8 percent from distance. Typically, pairing two bigs with such limited shooting prowess cramps offenses to the point of impotence, but the Celtics have actually been thriving when Kanter and Williams share the floor.
Boston has outscored opponents by 26.1 points per 100 possessions when they’ve turned to their strong boy front court, per Cleaning the Glass. The team’s offensive rating - 126.4 - ranks in the 100th percentile, and its defensive mark - 100.4 - the 97th. Essentially, the Celtics have played like the greatest team in the history of time when Brad Stevens has elected to utilize his two burliest players simultaneously.
If you’re feeling a bit skeptical, you are justified. Kanter and Williams have played a total of 261 non-garbage time possessions together, which is a minuscule sample size. Nothing about the theory of the pairing suggests they should be anywhere close to as good as they have been together, but there are a few clear strengths that makes it at least reasonable to believe will persist, offensive rebounding chief among them.
Kanter is a monster on the offensive glass all by himself, and in Williams, he appears to have found something of a kindred spirit. Both are terrifyingly strong, and relentless in their pursuit of the ball. Boston has posted an astonishing 38.3% offensive rebound rate when the two have shared the court, per Cleaning the Glass.
That gives the Celtics a huge advantage, and it’s not the only positive offensive trait both players share. Kanter and Williams each have a knack for setting bone-jarring screens. Their lack of shooting may function as an anti-spacer, but their collective beef and willingness to smash into opponents breathes a lot of unconventional life into possessions.
Boston lives at the rim on offense during Kanter and Williams’ minutes. That’s partially because both enjoy posting up and hoisting up bunnies after grabbing offensive rebounds, but also because their screens and seals clear out ample driving lanes for their teammates.
While there is evidence to suggest that the Celtics can continue to succeed in unconventional ways offensively, the case for their defensive competence with Kanter and Williams on the court is a bit more flimsy.
Williams is a precocious defender, with incredible instincts and a motor that gets him to the right spot despite not possessing preternatural athleticism. He communicates on defense like a ten-year vet. It’s nice to think that maybe he’s so good that he can paper over Kanter’s many warts on that end of the court, but that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening.
Teams are hoisting oodles of three-point shots against Boston during Kanter/Williams minutes. Thankfully, they’re just not dropping. Opponents have made just 27.2% of their looks from deep, despite the significant volume of opportunities that they’ve deemed worth pulling the trigger on, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s just pure luck. Neither Kanter nor Williams is contributing three-point defense in a meaningful way.
It would be wise to anticipate some pretty significant defensive regression from the Celtics’ muscle-bound tag team. There’s enough interesting things happening on the offensive end of the court for Kanter and Williams to remain an intriguing change of pace off the bench for Stevens though. Enjoy their funky effectiveness for as long as it lasts.