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Grant Williams should be a full-time starter

Starting Grant Williams could be the solution the Boston Celtics are looking for

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Grant Williams is slowly becoming one of the most important pieces in the Boston Celtics rotation. He has garnered more and more opportunities because of injuries to Al Horford and Robert Williams, and he has made the most of those chances. While the double-big pairing of Horford and Williams has been great this season, it may be time to try out a new starting frontcourt.

Horford, Williams, and Williams have been the three primary big men getting minutes this season, with a little bit of Enes Kanter sprinkled in. When playing with each other, this is what the numbers look like:

  • Al Horford & Robert Williams (123 minutes 101.2 OffRtg, 88.3 DefRtg, 11.9 NetRtg)
  • Grant Williams & Al Horford (212 minutes, 100.4 OffRtg, 109.4 DefRtg, -8.9 NetRtg)
  • Grant Williams & Robert Williams (120 minutes, 105.3 OffRtg, 104.5 DefRtg, 0.7 NetRtg)

By the numbers, the most successful pairing has been Horford and Robert Williams. Their net rating is by far the best, in large part due to their defensive prowess. That being said, the defense has not been the greatest issue with the Celtics this season. In fact, Boston’s putrid offense has been the main problem so far.

Boston has three lineups (with at least 100 possessions played together) in the top-25 when it comes to points allowed per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. While none of them include Grant Williams, they are all also in the bottom half of the league in points scored per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, only one of the Celtics’ lineups ranks in the top half of the league (9th overall) in terms of points per 100 possessions. Grant Williams is in that lineup.

A big part of that offensive success comes from behind the three-point line. The Celtics ranks 26th in the league in three-point accuracy at 32.6 percent. Robert Williams is not a three-point shooter and Horford is shooting the lowest percentage of his career (28.9 percent) since he began shooting threes.

However, Grant Williams is shooting 43.1 percent from deep, good for 16th in the entire league. He’s the only player in the NBA right now that is a part of the elusive 50-40-90 club. On top of that, Williams is shooting a ridiculous 50 percent from the corner this season on nearly two attempts per game. The forward has lived in the corners this year.

His consistency from behind the arc not only improves the team’s shooting as a whole, but the floor spacing he provides is crucial. A term that is constantly used with Miami Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson is gravity. The gravity of Williams is now starting to open up lanes for Boston’s marquee stars, which is something that the combination of Horford and Robert Williams simply does not do.

First, take a look at this play against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Evan Mobley is quickly becoming one of the best young defenders in the NBA, but because Williams is in the corner, he is unable to help against Jayson Tatum on the drive. At the same time, Jarrett Allen is forced to guard the lob threat of Robert Williams. Dean Wade still gets a good contest on the shot, but at that point, Tatum just overpowers him.

Meanwhile, this play displays the opposite effect. Watch PJ Tucker sag off of Horford on the three-point line. He’s not nearly as much of a threat from behind the arc, so he instead chooses to inch towards Tatum. At the same time, Jimmy Butler is cemented in the lane since Robert Williams provides no spacing. While neither got a great contest on Tatum, the pressure in the lane was far more significant.

Williams provides more than just three-point shooting and floor spacing, too. He has learned to be effective in other ways on the offensive side of the ball as well. The young forward has also learned to become a solid screener. The play below shows him helping get Marcus Smart an open shot in the corner by sealing off Pascal Siakam.

All of this isn’t to say that Horford and Williams aren’t having good seasons. Both are playing phenomenal basketball this year. Their impact on the defensive end has been incredible, but again, that’s not where Boston’s primary issue lies this season. In wins this season, the C’s are scoring 110.5 points per night and shooting 35.0 percent from deep. In losses, they are scoring only 103.4 points per game and shooting 29.8 percent from three-point range.

Elite defense has been vital to Boston’s success this season, too, but Grant Williams contributes a lot on that end as well. Although he’s only 6’6”, Williams is an extremely smart defensive player who uses his high IQ to stay in front of opposing players. Robert Williams recently gave him credit for his basketball intelligence:

“Grant is the best communicator on our team, in my opinion, as far as helping everybody be in their position, know the plays, you know what I’m saying? He’s a hell of a smart player. It’s always a bonus being on the floor with him.”

While he’s able to bang down low due to his years of playing in the post at Tennessee, he’s also able to effectively switch onto the perimeter. In this play, Williams is switched onto Hawks guard Trae Young, and while Young doesn’t try anything fancy, Williams is still able to stay put and get a good contest on the shot.

Ime Udoka implemented a “switch everything” defense to start the season, and while he’s pulled back on the amount of switching a bit, being versatile on defense is still important. Williams provides that versatility. Horford and Robert Williams are decent perimeter defenders, but Horford is not as quick and Williams strength is being a rim protector.

In addition, Williams’ aforementioned basketball IQ allows him to get some ridiculous blocks. He’s never going to be the fastest or the most athletic, but he knows how to time things perfectly. The two clips below show Williams’ innate ability to sniff out shots.

So, while Williams would primarily be added to the starting lineup for offensive purposes, he’s far from a negative on the defensive end. Let’s not forget, just 15 months ago he was nabbing this game-saving block in the second round of the playoffs.

Above all, Williams has become vocal member of the locker room. Based on the comments the third-year pro made after Boston’s loss to the Spurs, it’s clear that all he cares about is winning. He said that the C’s have to have “that intensity, that passion, that effort.” Watching Celtics games, it’s clear that Williams plays with this sort of energy at all times. With all of the slow starts Boston has gotten off to this year, they could use some of that passion in the first quarter.

Not only that, but he’s proven to be a team player. Next time he’s on the bench, take a second to look at the top of your TV screen. What you’ll see is a bunch of guys sitting down resting, a couple of coaches looking at their notes, and Grant Williams standing up cheering on his teammates.

Sitting at 11-10 on the season, the Celtics are not exactly where most people expected them to be. Over this past month or so their defense has carried them, and their offense continues to struggle. There have been some flashes of improvements, but they were met only by regression in the following games. Injuries have plagued them, but it has allowed Grant Williams to step up and show that he’s ready to contribute in a big way.

With how poor the offensive numbers are this season, a change-up might be in order. Adding Williams to the starting lineup on a regular basis could end up being exactly what the Celtics need.

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