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First to the Floor: How valuable is Grant Williams’ defense?

Jared Weiss joins the pod to discuss the all-star game, what to expect during the stretch run, and Grant Williams

Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

On this episode, the Athletic’s Jared Weiss calls into the show from his steering wheel and joins Ben and Jake to discuss the All-Star Game, what to expect during the stretch run, and Grant Williams. Grant has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny in recent weeks thanks to his inconsistent play. A significant portion of the fanbase was even calling to trade him on deadline day. As the fellas agreed on the show, Grant has his limitations, but his defense will be irreplaceable come playoff time, for better or worse. So, that begs the question, just how valuable is Grant’s defense?

On paper, Grant can feasibly switch 1-5 without it being too disastrous.

Please ignore my typo filled tweet, it was the playoffs and I wasn’t getting much sleep. That play is everything great about Grant. Corrals KD at the top of the key, has to make a quick, decisive switch onto Kyrie Irving who he then smothers all the way to the baseline. His defense on Durant and Giannis is a big reason the Celtics won those two series.

So long as Giannis remains in the East, Grant Williams will have value. He reiterated that point in the recent game against Milwaukee where he did an admirable job against Giannis despite being surrounded by the Maine Red Claws.

So, while the eye test is generally positive about Grant’s defense, the stats really aren’t. I don’t love defensive stats because it’s very hard to quantify a guy playing defense so well his cover has to pass. Most defensive stats only record when someone takes a shot, but despite their imperfections, they’re telling us Grant isn’t doing a particularly good job of bothering his man when he does allow them to get a shot off.

Opponents’ FG% increases 1.6% from their average when guarded by Grant. For reference, Al holds opponents to around 6% worse shooting. He’s in the 45th percentile when defending isolations and an embarrassing 2nd percentile defending post ups. The Celtics defense gets about 2 points per 100 possessions worse with Grant on the floor, per

While those numbers all look bleak, the upside is that they are on limited possessions and shots. In other words, it looks like Grant is doing a pretty good job making sure a defensive stat doesn’t get recorded by forcing a pass, but when he gets beat, he does very little to disrupt his opponent.

I’d say that’s a pretty fair evaluation of Grant’s defense. He’s often asked to guard the best offensive players in the game, and his lack of size allows guys like KD or Jokic to shoot over the top. On switches, he does admirably to defend quick guards, but he’s prone to getting blown by. All in all, though, Grant isn’t quite an elite defensive player, but I think he’s much better than his defensive stats seem to indicate. He’s got a lot of value guarding big wings, and those just happen to be the most dominant players in basketball.

We really hope you enjoy this episode, and please subscribe to the First to the Floor podcast feed (where we will be posting all episodes after February 28th) and YouTube channel. Thanks for listening!

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