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Grant Williams enters pivotal third season with something to prove

After getting into better shape and gaining a mentor in Al Horford, Williams will have the chance to silence the doubters this season.

Boston Celtics Media Day Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Grant Williams impressed in his rookie season, but after a tumultuous sophomore year, the general opinion of Williams is more shrouded in uncertainty than ever.

Talking about Grant Williams with Celtics fans is similar to discussing canned cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving – there’s two definitive sides, and they will go to war over their opinion.

In a recent Twitter poll, I asked Celtics and NBA fans to vote on what they believe Grant Williams’ ceiling is:

The votes are more split than a homecoming court vote between the star quarterback and the drum major. “Solid role player” beat out “fringe NBA player” by a few percentage points.

Solid role player to me means an athlete capable of providing consistent minutes, but not someone the team really relies on for heavy usage. Think modern Jeff Green, a player capable of filling a role, but never a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

It makes sense why fans are down on Williams. The 22nd pick in the 2019 NBA Draft posted nearly identical numbers to his rookie season last year and mostly underwhelmed after looking so promising in the bubble, improving his three point percentage and not much else.

To make improvements, consistency is key. Williams’ 3-point shooting improved dramatically, jumping from a 25% deep ball shooter to 37.5% from his rookie to sophomore seasons. A 37.5% 3-point percentage is nearly 2% above the 2020 league average, according to StatMuse.

In a sit down with Celtics.com’s Amanda Pflugrad and Marc D’Amico, he noted he wanted to improve his consistency and shot speed, not having stretches where “I hit eight in a row then miss four in a row.”

But even with the three-point shot in his arsenal, the biggest problem with Williams’ 2020-2021 campaign was a lack of identity. Often more of a misfit toy than a functioning cog in the machine, Grant never found his ideal role on either side of the ball.

Sometimes, he showed promise as a “small ball” center, but that role is very niche and not a consistent fixture of any NBA offense, unless you have a god squad like the 2017 Warriors. It’s safe to say despite Williams’ 3-point prowess, improvement in other areas is imperative for his career longevity.

Luckily for Grant, the Boston big man room just received a huge boost in Al Horford. Robert Williams spoke about Horford’s impact on his game at Celtics Media Day, expressing excitement in his mentor’s return and Grant could use Horford’s wisdom to take a jump of his own. This offseason, he lost fifteen pounds and got into a game-ready shape he feels confident in. In order to become a more impactful big in this league, Williams will look to soak up as much from Horford’s brand of versatile, cerebral basketball. He knows it, too, even referring to himself as “Baby Al.”

A Western Conference scout discussed Williams’ public perception in Keith Smith’s “Scout’s View” series on CelticsBlog, saying “‘a large number of Celtics fans hate this guy, right? I don’t get that ... He got up to 37% from deep. He’s a pretty good passer. And he’s shown he can score in the post on smaller guys. I’ll take that from my fourth big any day of the week.’”

Context is the key when evaluating Williams. He was a late first-round draft pick who just endured a confusingly backward season, where it seemed no two Celtics lineups were ever the same. The expectations for a player taken with a late first are typically “if it works out, great. If it doesn’t, oh well.”

So, where is all the weight of expectations coming from with Grant?

Early in his career, Williams drew comparisons to Draymond Green, which unfairly placed the burden of “Draymond-lite potential” on his shoulders. A former scout touched on these comparisons in Smith’s “Scout’s View” series, too.

“Now, put that Green stuff away and judge him for what he is. Then, you have a kid who can defend most fives at a decent rate and some of the slower fours,” the scout said. “Sure, (Joel) Embiid is gonna kill him at the five. Giannis (Antetokounmpo) will destroy him at the four. But guess what? Those guys destroy everyone. Give the kid 10-15 minutes a night and you’re fine on defense.”

With his perception amongst fans at an all-time low, Grant Williams has a chance to silence the doubters and solidify his spot in the Celtics rotation. In the best shape of his life with a new coach, He’s entering the most crucial season of his career and it’s up to him how he responds.