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CelticsBlog exit interview: Grant Williams deserves a fair chance

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Grant Williams had a rough sophomore year, but I still believe that a real offseason, a new coach, and Al Horford’s wisdom can get him on track.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite parts of writing for this here website is telling people how much I like Grant Williams. To me, being a Celtics fan means developing an affinity for smart, defensive-minded players with an underdeveloped offensive toolbox. Strong role players are the lifeblood of truly great basketball teams. That’s why I choose to believe, anyway, with so many top-heavy rosters (including the Celtics) floundering as soon as they need eight quality minutes from a bench guy. I also believe that Grant Williams can be a crucial role player after his first real offseason as an NBA player.

The Celtics/Nets Game 3 box score is the crown jewel on this steaming turd of a season. The grit, defense, and clutch basketball was a taste of everything we wanted out of this team, and they managed to pull it off even with some key players missing. It was also the only real glimpse we got of the healthy Nets, and it’s incredible the Celtics managed to take even one game from them, especially after they dragged themselves to a seventh game against the Bucks.

Ready to get even more upset with me? Here’s the box score that I’m obsessed with from Game 3:

via the Museum of Fine Arts/espn.com

I advocated for more Grant and Romeo Langford all season and I’m taking any small victory I can get. Brad Stevens ran a surprisingly tight playoff rotation for his standards, although the renewed rash of injuries made it nearly impossible to remain consistent. All I’m saying is the only game they won is the game where Brad primarily stuck to the seven best available players. It may have more to do with Jayson Tatum’s 50 points than anything, but I’d be remiss to not take victory laps after getting my way and subsequently getting the result I wanted.

This box score is obviously not indicative of Grant’s season or the team as a whole. I won’t even deny that Grant had a pretty miserable time finding his way, so let’s talk about it.

First and most obvious: fouls. Jaylen Brown committed the most fouls on the team with 168 in 1999 minutes. Grant was next, with 161 fouls in 1138 minutes. Yikes. Third on the team was Marcus Smart, with 126 fouls in 1581 minutes, which is a pretty massive drop off, even taking into account the variance in minutes played.

If we go by per-100 possessions, Brown and Smart commit 4.1 and 3.9 fouls respectively. Grant is at 6.9. which only trails Moritz Wagner and Tacko Fall, which is to say Grant is very easily the most foul prone rotation player by a wide margin.

basketball-reference.com

A sizable chunk of Grant’s fouls are “take” fouls, as they’re apparently called, the ones where you give the foul before a fast break or another advantageous scenario is about to clearly take place for the other team. I’ve often heard players get praised for making the right play by giving a foul, even though it’s never the best play. Sure, it makes sense to interrupt the opponent’s offense by giving a relatively harmless foul and stopping the clock. But you know what’s better? How about not constantly being in a position where giving free fouls away is necessary?

This is more a symptom of Boston’s sputtering offense (that was somehow 10th in offensive rating) than an indictment of Grant’s abilities, but I don’t see why the first course of action for him is to always give the foul right away after a turnover. Transition baskets are deadly, so maybe he saved us a few points. I just can’t look at the Celtics’ collective heap of fouls and think that it’s optimal.

Grant’s defense was as solid as ever in the playoffs, which is what really matters. That makes two playoff runs in two seasons where he’s held his own on that end, so I’d say the positives there almost outweigh the negatives.

On offense, Grant has already proven himself as a smart player. His clumsiest moments early in the season won’t be enough to talk me out of him becoming a more consistent contributor.

The foundation of being able to pass, shoot from the corner, and set screens is all there. Within Brad Stevens’ offense, Grant was often relegated to standing in the corner awaiting the privilege of a three-point attempt, which was a pretty poor use of his skills. Therein lies a perfect summary of why I was so critical of Brad’s system: the stats might have been passable, but the product was awful.

Grant is at his best with the ball in his hands, which really isn’t the high demand people make it out to be. In the above clip, one touch was enough to help create an open shot.

The barrier between Grant Williams and consistent playing time will ultimately come down to scoring around the basket. His signature fake hand off is a nifty tool to create driving lanes and his post up game is pretty sturdy.

Here’s my favorite Grant highlight video, in which he bullies John Collins and Jeff Teague:

On second thought, forget post ups. If Grant can clean up the boards and drive the ball, playing time will be plentiful. Grant’s skill set has always reminded me of a mini-Horford, so maybe he can fully realize that identity under Horford’s tutelage. Grant, like Horford, is best used as a small-ish center even if they’re built more like power forwards (which isn’t to say conventional position names are relevant anymore). This also falls under the umbrella of “problems Ime Udoka is tasked with solving.” Will each player have a consistent and clearly defined role? Because Grant stands to benefit from consistency more than anyone else.

Give Grant a chance. Cut some slack for all the rookies and sophomores whose development was interrupted by COVID. It’s not too late for any of them, and it’s certainly not too late for those who contributed in the playoffs.