In the Celtics final scrimmage, coach Brad Stevens opted to sit his “core seven” and go with a youth movement. By resting the team’s stars, multiple rookies and end-of-rotation players had an opportunity to stake their claim for minutes when meaningful basketball resumes for Boston on Friday.
Grant Williams further strengthened his case for a spot in the rotation. Mixing intelligent defense with multi-faceted scoring, the 6’6’’ forward was the best Celtic on the floor against a Rockets team that played their starters including Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Brad Stevens weighed in on Williams’s performance following the scrimmage:
“He did some nice things, and he bailed us out on a couple of possessions. We also missed him on some slips, where he would have had layups or some shots at the rim, which could have added to his day. And he didn’t get to play the small-ball five at all, as we were trying to rotate Rob, VP, and Tacko. So all things considered, I thought he played well.”
Here’s a clip of Williams hustling back on D to stop a James Harden drive in transition.
Coming over on Harden’s weak side, the Tenessee alum shows his defensive IQ and hand-speed to strip the ball away as Harden gathers to go into his layup motion.
The defensive recognition on the break coupled with the athleticism to close the space to strip the ball without fouling is one of those winning plays that Williams can contribute as a role player heading into the seeding games.
Outside of his block on Harden, Williams produced arguably his best showing to date on the glass. Pulling down a game-high eight defensive rebounds (nine total), provided the Celtics with some much-needed presence on the boards.
The lions share of these rebounds came while the Celtics were operating a zone defense, with Williams covering the low help-line. However, Williams showed hustle and IQ to beat a Rocket aiming to crash the board for an easy put back on multiple possessions.
Williams has shown he’s capable of hanging with NBA level talent on the defensive side of the floor, but throughout the season has looked slightly behind the pace offensively. The 236-pound forward has been averaging just 3.5 points on 3.1 attempts per game.
However, against Houston, Williams showed he’s capable of scoring in a plethora of ways.
The shot selection in the above clip is new for Williams, and the handles are also very encouraging. With the ball in the corner, you can see the 21-year-old survey the floor for a passing opportunity. When one doesn’t arise, he hunts for his spot using a blend of dribble moves and changes of pace. Furthermore, Williams eats the contact and hits a contested fade away. Shots like that breed confidence, as will his success in shots like the one below.
Setting the step-up screen, Williams finds himself able to call for the ball at the nail but reads his man attempting to close the passing lane. As a result, the former 22nd pick fades beyond the arc to receive the ball. A substantial tag from Brad Wanamaker enables Williams to get into shooting motion before his man can get into a defensive position, then he pulls up and nails the bucket.
Confidence. It all comes to down confidence.
Just a couple of months ago, Williams would have swung the ball and looked to relocate. But this is not a few months ago, and according to Williams, he has been working on his three-point shot:
“What I was trying to focus on was really my three-point shooting. Not trying to lose weight, but stay in the same grade but form my body a little bit differently.”
It may have been the only three that Williams shot in this game, but his form looked smoother from a mechanical standpoint, while his confidence in firing the shot is encouraging, too.
Brad Stevens is undoubtedly looking to Williams to be a big part of the team’s success.
“He’s played well and had some big moments for us. I expect he will be a good player for a long time.”
The scrimmages are officially over for the Boston Celtics, and the real games scheduled to begin at the end of the week. On the back of this performance, Grant Williams has shown that he’s ready for a more prominent role as the playoffs draw near.