Brad Stevens feels that this young rookie will be in the league for a long, long time
Photo of Brad Stevens courtesy of Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports
Grant Williams is an interesting player for the Boston Celtics this year. The rookie could carve out a role as a big forward and contribute right away. If you watched any of preseason game #1, you may share the same sentiment as Brad Stevens.
Williams is an undersized power forward, but that doesn’t matter as much in today’s NBA. A guy like Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors has won championships and made a lot of money in that role.
Marcus Smart has made the phrase “winning plays” famous around here. Smart embodies winning basketball by doing things throughout the game that contribute to winning but don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. In just a short time, Williams is making the same impression.
We’ve also seen Williams’ personality shine throughout the summer. He’s not shy on social media and has a contagious personality - something this team needs. In some circumstances, he can talk so much that he can get under even his teammates’ skin.
Marcus Smart: “Grant Williams talks. I talk trash. It's different. He talks. He literally talks non-stop, and I think it's annoying Jayson.”
Grant Williams: “They already said they’re getting tired of my voice.”
Playing smart, winning basketball is important, and that will get him on the court, but what will keep him on the floor?
For a Celtics team that doesn’t have as much floor spacing as they’ve had in the past with Al Horford or even Kelly Olynyk gone, it will be important for Grant Williams to take and make three pointers. We’ll see some lineups where Grant plays small-ball center (Brad gave us a little look at this in the first game), but most of his time will be played alongside another big man. Considering Enes Kanter, Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier make their money inside the paint, it’ll clog up the lanes if there are two players playing in the post.
Grant Williams is in and the C's are going super-small. Williams, Ojeleye, and Brown are the frontcourt with Smart and Wanamaker
That is where Grant Williams’ three-point production comes into play. It wasn’t a big part of his game in college as he shot 32.6% on 1.2 attempts per game in his final season. Is it possible for him to see an uptick in that percentage as he ages in the league?
I looked at a few guys across the league to see how they shot the three in college and how they’re doing now. Of the guys I looked at, ironically, Draymond Green has seen his career three point percentage lower since he’s been in the league. Green shot 36.1% in college, but he’s just made 32.3% of his NBA threes.
Luckily for my narrative, I found some other guys that give Grant Williams hope. I’ve simply taken a peek at guys that play a similar position and/or project to have similar careers.
First, I’d like to highlight guys like Horford and Blake Griffin who didn’t shoot the long ball early in their careers, but have now added it to their arsenal and shoot at or above league average (league average is around 36%).
Karl Anthony-Towns is an outlier in this category as well, but he’s just better at it than Horford and Griffin. KAT took just eight threes in his only year at Kentucky, but now he is one of the best big man shooters in the NBA, toting a career 39.2% clip.
PJ Tucker also fits into this category, and would be a nice player comp for Williams. Tucker just went 2-4 from three in his three seasons at Texas, was out of the NBA while he played overseas, but has really come on to be a contributor on good teams. Williams plans to stay in the NBA unlike Tucker, but Tucker proves that you can develop the long ball. A career 36.1% three point shooter for his career has really ramped it up over the past three seasons - 37.7%, 37.1%, 40% respectively.
Like Tucker, Jerami Grant didn’t take many threes in college (20 attempts over two seasons). He is just a career 33.4% three point shooter, but as he hits his prime, he connected on 39.2% of his three-ball attempts at age 24.
Last, but not least, is Marcus Smart. I wanted to take a look at Smart due to his Celtics ties and because Smart and Williams can have similar careers. Although they play different positions, they hope to impact the game with timely steals, hard-nosed defense, and by taking clutch charges. Williams doesn’t project to be an All-NBA defender like Smart, but it’ll be fun to watch these guys grit and grind on a nightly basis.
If you thought Smart started his NBA career as a bad three point shooter, you are correct. Little did I know, he was even worse in college. Smart shot just 29.5% at Oklahoma State. Yikes. He is not that much better as a pro either. After a season in which he shot a very respectable 36.4%, he saw his career percentage creep up to 31%.
We’ve all cringed at some of Marcus’ three attempts, but he seems to be coming into his own as a league average shooter. Williams may have the same trajectory, although he comes in as a better shooter. It is fair to expect Williams to hit one-third of his three point attempts this season, but for him to make a leap as a player, he will need to get to 36%+. I think it’s possible. He shot over 80% from the free throw line in his final year at Tennessee and his shot looks pretty solid to me.
Winning plays + efficient three point shooting = NBA player for a long, long time.