Over the past twelve months, Grant Williams has positioned himself to take over the mantle of ‘most divisive player on the Boston Celtics roster,’ assuming a role Marcus Smart has carried for almost the entirety of his career (although Jaylen Brown is clearly in that discussion, too).
Often seen as too small to play center and too slow to be an impactful forward, Williams has his fair share of detractors. To boot, he’s done himself no favors in how he’s developed into one of the biggest referee antagonists in the NBA and any opponent willing to engage him in a verbal battle.
For some, Williams is simply talking too much, which is leading to a lack of focus on the basketball court. For others, Williams is simply implementing all that he has learned from Draymond Green in the past NBA Finals series, which clearly holds a certain level of value.
Regardless of his willingness to voice every opinion, there’s no denying that Williams’ game has improved and that he’s a better basketball player today than he was during the playoffs last season.
Throughout last season, Williams clearly took a leap in terms of shooting the rock from deep, especially the corners, ending the season with a 41% conversion rate from beyond the arc, and a total of 311 points from 260 catch-and-shoot possession, per Instat’s tracking data. Coming into this season, Williams was seen as a 3&D guy whose defensive versatility provided legitimate upside, both as a starter and off the bench.
Grant Williams has been THE most versatile defender this season when it comes to guarding 1-5.— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) December 20, 2022
Here's how often he's guarding each position each year of his NBA career.
See the full leaders any season from 2013-23 here:https://t.co/JKt6Rp2O7i pic.twitter.com/M6x42jCWRu
However, the Tennessee native has put in some serious hours this past off-season and looks to have vastly improved multiple areas of his game.
“Shooting on the move, that’s the big one. Not necessarily like Duncan Robinson shooting on the move, but more so pick-and-pop. Just make sure, like the shots that I am gonna have to make this upcoming season, because teams are going to run me off, teams are going to be heavily contesting, so, that’s one. Defensively, I want to improve on guarding actions, like screaming actions. Whether that’s off-ball or on. Because I do a great job in isolation, I want to improve, say, I’m guarding Steph [Curry] or Trae Young coming off the screen and be able to negotiate and navigate those screens. And then the last thing is my finishing at the rim, whether that’s through floaters or touch shots, you know. Where, those in between shots so if I’m not getting all the way to the rim for a layup, being able to have that in my arsenal,” Williams told CelticsBlog’s Jack Simone.
Of course, Williams’ primary improvement has been his development in scoring off the dribble, whether that’s via floaters, post-ups, or even step-back jumpers — we’re seeing a far deeper offensive bag this season, and that’s keeping defenders honest in how they try to guard him.
If Grant Williams starts hitting off-the-dribble pullups like this, lock this man in for $20 million this summer without question. pic.twitter.com/wBnz4IU366— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) November 6, 2022
From the moment Williams entered this past summer, it was clear there was a chance he would have to earn his next contract - either with Boston or elsewhere in the league. As things turned out, that’s exactly the situation he found himself in, as reports have stated the Celtics drew a line in the sand at $12.5 million annual average value.
“During extension talks with Grant Williams, the Celtics never offered more than $50 million guaranteed over four years, league sources told HoopsHype. As I previously reported on HoopsHype, Williams would’ve taken a deal for $14 million annually. There are some around the league that believe an offer around $18 million annually could be too much for Boston to match in restricted free agency,” Micahel Scotto of HoopsHype reported on Novemeber 14.
Boston may have overplayed their hand there because Williams is looking increasingly mobile on offense and continues to be one of the team’s better positional defensive options. A primary example of Williams’ improvements is the regularity in which he’s attacking off the bounce after faking a dribble hand-off on the perimeter, showing his capabilities as both a bully driver and interior finisher.
Grant is getting SO good at these fake DHO & drive plays. Has really improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and bully drive. pic.twitter.com/ry7rpCZEdP— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) December 5, 2022
Suddenly, Williams is far more than a spot-up shooter and will ooze value to multiple teams around the league who are looking for a starting-caliber glue guy with plenty of playoff experience. When looking around the league at teams who could potentially have interest in Williams, I keep coming back to the Detroit Pistons — a cap space team who could benefit from a versatile forward that can space the floor for Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart when he’s rampaging downhill to the cup. Of course, there will be other teams to show interest, both contending and rebuilding.
“There’s strong interest, so I think there’s gonna be a market. When I talk to teams around the league, I think people are looking at him as something in that 15 to 17 million dollar range in an extension. He’s thriving right now in this hybrid role. He’ll start sometimes, and he’ll come off the bench most of the time. He’s able to thrive as a spot-up shooter. So, it’s gonna be curious to see if he does end up leaving or if he gets a bigger deal somewhere else. Obviously, that puts him in a position to start, but where would that leave him? Would he play better? And I think teams feel like he could be more impactful on the offensive end doing a little bit more than just being a spot-up shooter. But, right now, he’s filling a perfect role for them. He’s thriving in that line-up. And I think, when you look at the cap space teams in the summer, the Orlando’s, the OKC’s, the Indiana’s — those are all teams that you can plug a Grant Williams in,” The Athletic’s Shams Charania said on a recent appearance of FanDuel TV.
It’s worth remembering that Williams will be a restricted free agent, so Boston will have every opportunity to match any offer sheet he may sign. However, as we’ve seen throughout the past few months, the Celtics are a tax-paying team, have already extended Al Horford, and will already have an eye on Jaylen Brown’s contract negotiations in 2024. Retaining Williams beyond this season is certainly not a guarantee.
Whether his next contract comes from Boston or another team around the league, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Williams’ overall improvements and growing voice within the team's locker room are all pushing him toward a significant contract. So, I think it’s fair, and justifiable to say that Williams is playing himself into a big payday next summer. The only question is, which team will be footing the bill?