If you've consumed the Harry Potter stories, you will be aware of Fawkes the phoenix, who rises from the ashes to save the day against the Basilisk. Something is captivating about that story, at how one can redeem themselves even where all seems lost. And yet, here we are, praising Grant Williams for yet another solid performance.
For the third time in as many games, you would be forgiven for uttering, "I think this was Grant's best game in a Celtics jersey." We've all thought it, perhaps spoke on it, but most of us didn't expect it. Following a season of struggle for the then-sophomore, Williams has returned from the summer in much better shape and is reaping the rewards for his transformation.
This was a great cut from Grant Williams to kill a potential double-team on Tatum. As Williams cuts, he drags a defender with him, which provides Tatum the space he needed to get to his spot and get his shot off pic.twitter.com/QaqIwDwMDw— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) October 10, 2021
Against the Houston Rockets, it was a pleasant surprise to see Grant Williams operating as the sixth man and thriving in his role. This is the same player who kept the Celtics in the game against New York and then was one of the more respectable performers in the loss to Toronto.
Williams finished the contest with 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep, and made his presence felt as both a screener and stern defensive piece. Not a bad night's work for someone who was on the proverbial scrapheap just two weeks ago. Life comes at you fast.
One thing that stood out was how quickly the third-year wing transitioned between offense and defense, consistently being one of the first guys up or down the floor. The Tennessee alum's increased work rate has provided him with some easy shooting opportunities, where he can get his shot off before the defense has time to set.
As Williams has continued developing his shooting ability off the catch, asking him to leak out and fill the strong-side corner early into a possession makes a lot of sense. But offensively, Williams provided much more than just corner spacing, as his screening ability and work above the break were both immeasurably improved from what we saw last season.
Another aspect we saw was Williams operating in the short roll, which given his basketball IQ, is a nice addition to the offense. Sure, we’ve seen Williams in this type of situation before, but actively using him as a short roll distributor could open up room for ball handlers if the defense starts to respect his impact.
Quick decision-making is key to making reads as a secondary facilitator, especially when in a short-roll scenario, and with Williams’ IQ and ability to read the court, we could see him operate in this type of role a lot more moving forwards.
A Houston native, Williams was giving the crowd their money's worth, as he operated as the "popper" in horns sets or dictated play when positioned above the break. Furthermore, we also saw Williams make intelligent decisions on when to lift out of the corner to provide a passing option on the wing.
"For me, just being able to knock down the open shots gives us a lot more versatility to our offense. They can't shrink in as much as they want to, especially on our superstar players. So it makes the job easier for Jayson, Jaylen, and Smart in being able to get downhill to the rim, and that's just my role. I'm embracing it fully and trying to be the best at," Williams said.
We've long envisioned Williams operating in a PJ Tucker-type role, which is a lofty expectation in fairness. Yet, as the three-point shot continues to fall at a consistent rate, we can be confident the former 22nd draft pick is on his way to realizing that vision.
Yet, despite the scoring outbursts in recent games, Williams has been reliable, if not impressive, on the defensive end. Operating in Ime Udoka's switching system means opposing teams will continuously look to get a big switched onto the perimeter, essentially tasking a center or power forward with providing point-of-attack defense. When Williams has found himself defending guards or wings, he's handled the task admirably by staying in front of his man when possible and contesting shots without fouling.
Udoka clearly wants his bigs contesting shots all over the floor, as Al Horford, Robert Williams, and Grant Williams ended the contest with the most contested shots for the Celtics by a healthy margin. For context, Rob Williams had 11 shot contests while Horford and Grant had eight apiece. You don’t get to contest shots when you’re struggling to stay in the play, which was Williams’ issue last season, and yet another testament to the conditioning work he underwent throughout the summer.
Of course, there will be times when Williams or any other player gets cooked on defense, we saw it happen against Julius Randle against the Knicks, but you have to live with guys making difficult shots or outplaying your role players. Instead, take solace in Williams’ improvements, and how his defense now involves being in the play rather than chasing it.
We’re only three games into the season, and we’ve seen flashes like this from the team's young guys before. But something feels different with Williams this time, perhaps it’s the guidance of Al Horford, or maybe the ghosts of last year are driving him to succeed. Whatever the difference maker has been, hearing Williams talk about becoming the best in his role is an encouraging sign.
"Consistency, biggest thing for me is just trying to stay consistent throughout the whole year,” Williams said. “Not going through ups and downs and being a person who is just relied upon."
Consistency can’t be judged this early into a season, but impact can, and if Williams continues to impact games in a similar manner to how he’s started the season, then the third-year big is going to get every opportunity to find some consistency in his production.