Grant Williams’ development has been crucial to the Boston Celtics’ success for the past few seasons. In his rookie year, Williams became known for his failure to hit a three-point shot. He missed 25 straight threes before finally nailing one, earning taunts from his teammates in the process. Just two seasons later, Williams was one of the best three-point shooters in the league.
In the 2021-22 season, Williams lit it up from behind the arc, shooting 41.1% from distance. He found great success spotting up in the corner and waiting to capitalize off of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s penetration of opposing defenses. That, combined with his stellar defense, was enough to make him one of the most important members of Boston’s rotation.
Heading into this season, however, Williams had goals to expand his game. He wanted to do more than simply stand behind the arc and shoot threes.
“Shooting on the move, that’s the big one,” Williams told me when asked about what he was working on during the offseason. “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 contested, 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.”
So far this season, his three-point shooting has remained elite, but he’s shown the ability to do more. Williams is driving close-outs and finishing at the rim much more often. However, the next step will be to find a balance.
When Williams caught the ball in a position to shoot a three last year, he shot it. There was no hesitation. This year, he’s looking to pick his spots a bit more. With the reputation he’s built as a shooter, defenders are closing out quicker, and Williams is looking to attack more frequently. But while his attack mentality will ultimately improve his game as a whole, it’s gotten in the way at times.
The most notable example of this came in the closing moments of Boston’s recent overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Williams got the ball on the wing with under a minute to go, and instead of putting up a shot, he tried to attack Giannis Antetokounmpo off the dribble. In the end, he turned it over, resulting in a loss for the Celtics.
There wasn’t a huge opening, but Williams had a chance to put up a three right before Antetokounmpo got to his spot. Instead, he attempted to show off some of his new skills. Williams would have been heralded for his summertime improvements if he had successfully pulled off the move. But due to his failure, he was subjected to the backlash of the fanbase.
And while Williams’ development as more than just a shooter should be celebrated, the growing pains have resulted in less-than-ideal moments on the court.
Williams’ determination to improve his overall skill set has led to occasional hesitation behind the three-point line. Too often does Williams pass up an open three-point shot in favor of driving to the hoop. Having the ability to score off the dribble is amazing, but not if it leads to costly mistakes.
Take this play, for example. Williams catches the ball with ample space, but rather than shoot it, he chooses to drive at Haywood Highsmith. The Miami Heat wing reads the play in time, follows Williams on the drive, and forces a turnover.
Here is another example. Williams catches the ball, once again with plenty of space to shoot an open three. Despite that, he decides to pump fake - twice - in an attempt to get past Garrison Matthews. He does so successfully, but Williams turns the ball over in the end after waiting too long to make a pass to the corner.
If he had taken the first shot or made the first pass available, the play would have resulted in an open look for the Celtics.
However, just because there have been some falters along the way doesn’t mean Williams should abandon his progression plan. In fact, he should do the exact opposite of that. The continuation of his improvements hinges on the trial-and-error play that’s been on display this season.
Williams has already shown immense progress in regard to the expansion of his skill set. His improved abilities driving, finishing, and shooting while on the move have led to some impressive plays this season.
On this play, Williams was wide-open in the corner. Could he have taken the shot? Absolutely. But Alex Caruso - one of the best perimeter defenders in the league - was rapidly closing in on him. Williams dribbled past Caruso after the sped past and wrapped up the play with an improbable finish at the rim, fighting through contact.
Williams was a post-player in college, thriving in the paint at Tennessee. He showed off those skills here against Christian Wood, proving that he’s capable of doing more than just shoot open threes, which gives the Celtics even more offensive options.
As for his improvements at shooting on the move, Williams has consistently hit side-step threes. If the situation makes sense for it, rather than driving close-outs, Williams will step to the side and nail a three. This play against Juancho Hernangomez shows off said skill.
Having another player on the roster who can score off the dribble would be an invaluable asset, especially considering he’s under team control. Boston doesn’t have the money to sign any more high-level players, so the internal development of their young players is their best pathway toward improvement.
Williams is far from perfect. Passing up open three-point shots severely hurts the team, especially when he fails to capitalize on the play. He earns the criticism he gets for the missteps, but instead of begging him to bail on his developmental plans, he should be pushed to find a balance.
The growing pains Williams is dealing with are on full display for all to see, but so are the results of his hard work. His next step will be to improve at knowing when to shoot the ball and when to drive. So far this season, he’s turning to the drive more than he should, but that’s okay.
Mistakes are a part of growth. Williams would be perfect without them, and if he were perfect, he wouldn’t exist. Nobody’s perfect.
Hannah Montana analogy aside, Williams’ evolution since entering the league has been astounding. He’s one of the best defenders on the team, a top-notch three-point threat, and now, he’s showing signs of becoming a better all-around basketball player. Right now, he’s in the experimentation phase of his progression.
Has Williams made errors this season? Undoubtedly. But his errors are simply a part of his development as a player. He’s shown how important he is to this Celtics team, and his focus on improvement will come with bumps in the road. However, if Williams and the Celtics continue their journey down said road, the rewards could be bountiful for both parties involved.