Can Grant Williams be the new Giannis Antetokounmpo stopper?
Grant Williams is all sorts of fired up | Photo: Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
If the Boston Celtics are going to make a push to Eastern Conference Finals or even the NBA Finals, Brad Stevens will need to find a way to slow down the stars on the opposing teams.
In game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics did a solid job on Joel Embiid limiting him to 15 points on just 5/14 shooting. Brad has found ways to slow Embiid over the years, most recently with Al Horford and Aron Baynes, but he was able to figure it out with new personnel in the opener. Side note: I love when Embiid hits a three early in the game. He may burn you if he gets hot, but more often than not he’s going to chuck and miss a handful of long ones. You’d much rather him take those than play bully-ball underneath.
Ben Simmons, however, had his way with the Celtics defense. He was really good in transition and got to the rim for 24 points. The blueprint has been established to limit Simmons’ game - build a wall of defenders in transition so he can’t get to the rim; play off of him and dare him to shoot by packing the lane/paint. He won’t shoot. Although it wasn’t great for the Celtics defense in the first attempt at knocking off the 6ers, I have a feeling that Brad will deploy a different strategy the next time around.
On Wednesday, the Celtics will take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. In the past, Brad has thrown waves of defenders at Giannis - Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Horford, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, etc. The strategy should be the same. Give him multiple looks on the defensive end.
Giannis, like Simmons, is one of the best players in transition in the NBA. If he gets a full head of steam and the defense isn’t set, he’s going to take two strides and get to the rim. He’s too long and gifted to stop consistently, but do the Celtics have the personnel to stop the elite unicorns of the NBA? They may have an unlikely rookie to take on the task.
Probably-much-too-bold prediction: Grant Williams starts on Wednesday against Giannis.
I think we’ll get Semi tonight for about 10 minutes due to his success on Giannis in the past. I believe Jaylen will get the most minutes on Giannis tonight. He’s coming into his own as an elite defender, has gotten better at guarding bigger guys, and is a good competitor that is always up to the challenge. He’ll need to be spelled for stretches because the task is large and you can’t dismiss potential foul trouble either. So, that leaves rookie Grant Williams.
Williams has yet to play enough minutes to complete an NBA game. He has played in just 47 minutes in his NBA career. Albeit a small sample size, he has been a very solid two-way player. The flashy numbers (points, rebounds, assists) don’t jump off the page as he’s averaging just 3.7/3.0/1.7 per, but he is really impacting the game.
The top right of the graph shows NBA rookies that have contributed to both good offense and good defense. That is where you find Grant Williams mug. And as Tom Westerholm points out below, the Celtics are better by 20 points per 100 possessions when Grant Williams is on the floor.
In the extremely limited sample size of 47 minutes so far, the Celtics are 20 points per 100 possessions better with Grant Williams on the court.
Williams won’t be able to lock down Giannis. No one can. But Williams gives Brad another option to try to slow him. He's smart, strong and long enough at 6'6" to compete. The hope is to bang him a little bit, create a turnover or two by causing a charge, and by forcing him into a volume shooter. We keep citing the small sample size, but through three games, Giannis is shooting just 16.7% on the three-ball in his most attempts per game he’s seen his career (4.0).
I’m excited to see how it looks tonight against another of the East’s elite. It’d be nice to get the win to create some hope that the Celtics can compete with the upper echelon in the conference. Priority number one is slowing Giannis, and Williams may be one of the ways to get that done. If Grant can’t do it alone, then I’m all for a Giannis sandwich surrounded by Williams and Smart. We’ll see.
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