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Grant Williams is becoming an essential role player

The third-year big has been one of the Celtics most consistent contributors to begin the season.

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

In Robert Williams' absence, Ime Udoka turned to Grant "Baby Horford" Williams to fill the gap within the starting lineup against the Atlanta Hawks. In the opening month of the current NBA season, the Boston Celtics head coach has often opted for size at the four and five positions, which has afforded the third-year big additional playing time.

Throughout his first two years in the league, Williams had only started a combined 14 regular season games, and with four starts in the team's first 15, there's a high chance the jabbering big finds himself involved as a starter a lot more moving forward. To Grant’s credit, it's impressive how he struggled so terribly last year but has suddenly become an integral part of what Udoka and the Celtics are trying to do. And in Wednesday's game against the Hawks, we saw why Williams has seen his playing time take a sharp uptick.

When it comes to Williams, his primary role on offense is that of a floor spacer, ideally from the corners, while also knowing when to lift onto the wing. Of course, you need to be a reasonably efficient three-point shooter to command the gravity of a defense.

Last season, Williams took a total of 54 corner threes (excluding garbage time), hitting 23 of them, which was good for 43%. Fifteen games into the new season, the Tennessee alum has already taken 21 shots from the corner, hitting 12 of them, giving him a 53% conversion rate per Cleaning The Glass.

"Those are the ones I have to execute on, so that's really it, just trying to do my job on that end with spacing and knocking down open shots. Just being aggressive, and not being passive, and stepping up into that role that the team needs," Williams said after scoring 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting Wednesday night.

In recent weeks, Williams has also shown an ability to drive the lane and power through a finish around the rim.

With Williams’ growth into a three-point threat, there will be times where he needs to attack the close out, and having a reliable touch around the rim will only serve to force help rotations, allowing for some secondary creation.

During his collegiate career, Williams was a traditional power forward, utilizing a back-to-the-basket type of game, which allowed him to develop a soft touch around the rim. So far this season, the 6'6" forward is converting 87% of his attempts within 4 feet of the basket, albeit on a small sample size of 15 shots.

With a 12.3% usage rate, Williams isn't necessarily commanding touches; he's just providing an offensive outlet for his teammates and converting his opportunities at a high clip, but consistency breeds confidence and Grant is growing in both areas.

"You just try to come in and play with energy, be a guy that competes at the highest level, and be a guy that doesn't mess up their groove. Some of the starters have that relationship where you're able to fill in and not try to do too much, but also give them a different option. That's how I view it, just be a solid guy that they know is available and can do a little bit of what they need me to do," Williams said of his growing role.

Outside of his improved offensive production, Williams has also been reliable on the defensive end of the floor. After shedding some weight during the offseason, the Houston native is moving around the floor a lot better and is able to react to Udoka's switching system without giving up too much space when forced into a rotation.

When thinking about defense, one thing to consider is how long of a stretch a player can go without you noticing them because if they're not in your thoughts, they're usually doing their job correctly. We only notice defensive players when they're guarding on the ball, performing a hustle play, or making a mistake, so anonymity is often a sign of a good performance in terms of defense.

It's also possible to assign blame to the wrong defender, and oftentimes it's the weakside low-man who catches the heat, a role which Williams undertakes quite consistently.

For example, take the above play. Williams is the weakside low-man, meaning he's tasked with tagging the roller and/or providing help defense should the ball-handler or a cutter go unchecked and get into the paint. Williams fulfills his assignment, with Dennis Schroder rotating over to the wing, the Geek Freek "X's out" to the perimeter. At first glance, it would seem that Williams made the initial defensive mistake when in actuality, it was the defensive system being executed as intended.

Unfortunately, Williams will scarcely get the credit his improved defense deserves. Still, with his current level of dependability on offense, the former 22nd pick is developing into a prototypical 3-and-D player who the Celtics coaching staff trust.

"When you're kind of in and out, and you don't really know what's going on, it's difficult for anyone. I struggled with that last year, coming in and shooting, and then not playing the next game, then coming in and shooting again," Williams said.

After an awful slump during his sophomore season, Williams is re-defining his game and becoming an integral part of the rotation. With a settled role within the team, we can be hopeful that he continues to get better.