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The importance of Grant Williams

An underwhelming fourth season might have depressed his value a bit, but re-signing Boston’s Batman should be a top priority for the front office.

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Heading into the offseason, the Celtics’ front office have a few pressing items on their to-do list. 1A is the now likely supermax extension for Jaylen Brown and despite an up-and-down fourth season, re-signing Grant Williams might be 1B.

On the surface, Williams’ contract status doesn’t seem like a priority:

Grant Williams heads into restricted free agency with seemingly less leverage as he did last summer when he was extension-eligible. He reportedly turned down a 4-year, $50 million deal after averaging 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Instead, he bet on himself and averaged, well, 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. It wasn’t exactly the leap that he and the fans expected.

But let’s deep dive:

Celtics regular season lineups 2022-2023

Ball Handlers Wings Bigs Minutes plus/minus
Ball Handlers Wings Bigs Minutes plus/minus
Smart - White Brown - Tatum Horford 433:06:00 10.5
Smart Brown - Tatum GRANT - Horford 179:46:00 -1.1
White Brown - Tatum GRANT - Horford 117:09:00 14.8
Smart - Brogdon Brown - Tatum Horford 110:11:00 -4.8
Smart - White Brown Robert - Horford 80:39:00 -15.3
Smart - White Brown GRANT - Horford 70:57:00 18.3
Brogdon Tatum - Hauser GRANT - Kornet 69:28:00 5.1
White Brown - Tatum Robert - Horford 69:23:00 46.9
Smart - White Brown - Tatum Griffin 67:59:00 28.6
Smart - Brogdon Tatum GRANT - Horford 45:44:00 19
White Tatum - Hauser Robert - Horford 44:37:00 29.3
Smart Brown - Tatum GRANT - Griffin 43:04:00 13.9
Smart - White Tatum Robert - Horford 42:59:00 -3.2
White - Brogdon Brown - Tatum Horford 42:38:00 -4.7
Brogdon Brown - Tatum GRANT - Horford 41:08:00 52.1
White - Brogdon Brown GRANT - Robert 38:56:00 18
Smart - Brogdon Brown GRANT - Horford 37:10:00 -47.1
Smart - White - Brogdon Brown Horford 36:57:00 3.4
Smart - White Brown - Tatum GRANT 36:23:00 0.4
White - Brogdon Tatum GRANT - Robert 36:16:00 11.7

Despite only averaging under 18 minutes a game (with several sprinkled-in DNP-CD’s) in the playoffs, Grant Williams played the fourth most minutes in the regular season and was featured in many of Boston’s best fivesomes. Some lineup notes of interest:

  • Much has been made of the Horford-Time Lord tandem, but the Horford-mini-Horford duo was pretty good, too. Through thirty games, Boston’s big starting lineup boasted a 15.9 net with a stingy 103.1 defensive rating. In a larger sample size of 58 games, Grant teamed up with Horford for an 8.6 net with a 116.6 offensive rating.
  • In the table above, we’ve listed Grant as a “big,” but it’s fair to say that that classification is fluid. Basketball Reference estimates that he spent 86% of his PT at PF. With Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as the only two true wings in the rotation, that naturally slots the 6’6 Williams at the position he played at Tennessee. However, there are several times when he would slot as the “second big” with only one of the Jays on the floor, making him kind of a hybrid small/power forward, too. Basketball Reference categorizes him at SF for 5% of his floor time in 2022-2023. He’s still working on attacking close outs and finishing around the rim, but his transformation from sturdy post presence to floor spacer is complete; he shot more three-pointers last season (115-of-291, 39.5%) than he has his entire career.
  • Williams’ defensive versatility might be his biggest strength. He has the ability to switch out onto guards and wings, but he still will make his money in the paint. During the regular season, the six most common matchups listed on NBA Stats features four of the premiere big men in the league: Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, and Julius Randle.

This is all to say that few players in the league can do what Williams does and more so, even fewer players can do so that the Celtics will have access to via trade or free agency on July 1. President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens is expected to tender an $8.5 million qualifying offer to Williams and he’ll most likely get bigger offers on the market with the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks both registering rumored interest in the restricted free agent. ESPN’s Bobby Marks recently told NBC Sports’ Chris Forsberg that he pegged his value around the MLE. “I think his number is anywhere from probably the non-tax midlevel, which is at $12.2 million — I would say $12-14 million,” Marks said. He continued, “so, I think if you’re Boston, four years and $48 million (for Williams), does that makes sense for you? Because I think you could always move it down the road.”

That’s not the $20 million per he was looking for a year ago. Multiple injuries at the back end of the year zapped his effectiveness and might have depressed his value in free agency. Smart teams know that and for the Celtics, they can’t afford to lose him. By all accounts, the Celtics will also try to balance the roster by dangling Malcolm Brogdon in trades and presumably look to bring in another wing or big as a return. Could that be John Collins ($26 million AAV), Tim Hardaway Jr. ($18.75 million), or Davis Bertans ($16 million)? Maybe, but ultimately, there may not be a better substitute than what's already in their cupboard.

It's easy to discount what Williams meant to the Celtics last season. Not really being part of the plan against the Hawks and flaming out against Jimmy Butler and the Heat is the lasting memory fresh in everybody's minds. But if Boston was willing to extend him just a year ago, the only thing that has really changed are the harsh economics of finding his replacement this offseason and certainly the coming summers.

For Williams is the player we need, not the player we deserve. That will take time and money, both investments that will pay off down the road.

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