Grant Williams was the last cog in the Boston Celtics machine that made everything work all year long. There were certainly some ups and downs, particularly in the playoffs, but if you look at Boston’s 2021-22 season as a whole, Williams has been one of the most consistent figures on the roster.
Last year, Williams was practically unplayable. He was too tall to play against the Four and keep up with faster forwards, but he was ousted from Boston’s Big Man rotation by Daniel Theis (at the start of the year), Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams and at times even Luke Kornet. After spending his entire rookie season as a small-ball center (and thriving in that role), Williams had to make a turn.
Early in the season it was clear that Williams knew what the Celtics would need from him. He revealed he spent the offseason shedding his weight in order to play the four effectively.
“In my rookie year, I had to gain weight to play 5,” Williams explained at Media Day. “Then I never lost that weight. Now I’ve lost 12-15 pounds. I still have to lose 8-10 to be able to play the 4 more. I want to be like ‘Baby Al’.”
With Al Horford and Robert Williams on the forecourt, Williams took on a bench role. His presence was felt immediately thanks to his three-point shooting, which will go down in history for him of the season. After starting his career shooting 0-for-25 from the deep, the Tennessee grad improved drastically last year.
Though ignored due to his weak defense, Williams’ three-point percentage increased to 37.2% during his second campaign. And he only built on that as he finished this season at 41.1% from long range (which ranked 16th in the NBA) with a career-high 3.4 attempts per game. He quickly became known for his corner threes, and by the end of the year his three-point percentage from corners was 46.9%.
But Williams’ growth didn’t stop there. As teams began to learn the magnitude of his threat from afar, Williams had to learn on the job. This resulted in a brief period of the year when Williams was intermittently stranded in the corner, but he quickly became effective at driving closeouts.
That being said, Williams still has a lot of room to grow in that regard. He still needs to perfect his closeouts and improve his decision-making at these points. Getting the right reads to know when to drive hard to the edge and when to ditch a pass will be a crucial next step in your development as a player.
Meanwhile, Williams’ defense was just as important, if not more so, than his three-point shooting. The weight he lost allowed him to shift down and protect the wings, which was exactly what Boston needed from him. In their alternating defense, having defenders with versatility was crucial and Williams enabled them to do so.
He’s even been able to switch to guards at times, although that’s another area of the game he needs to keep working on. He can survive on an island if he has to, but there are still too many times he gets knocked out and sends Boston spinning.
Despite all of that, Williams came into his own in the postseason. More specifically, he dominated Boston’s second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. That was the series that made most Celtics fans fall in love with him.
Against Milwaukee, Williams averaged 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.9 assists with 36.4% shots from the field and 37.8% from long range. Williams had two 20-point games against the Bucks – one in Game 2 and one in Game 7.
He scored 27 points in clincher, leading the game in scoring and setting a career high. Additionally, Williams set a record for most attempted three-pointers in a Game 7 of the NBA playoffs, of which he jacked 18. That number is also the second-highest three-pointer ever attempted in a playoff game (behind only Russell Westbrook). Williams lost seven of his 18 tries and made it big when Boston needed him most.
Williams’ defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo was also an important part of the series. Despite Al Horford taking on more of the role as the series progressed, Williams’ defense in Game 2 against the Greek Freak was amazing. He got the whole NBA world talking and for a brief moment he really was the Giannis Stopper.
But above all, Williams was the glue. He was the player who played singles drills with Jayson and Deuce Tatum before every game, the April Fool’s joker who faked a fight with Ime Udoka, and the only player who gave himself a nickname. Williams has been a constant source of joy in a season of uncertainty.
He was always the one to keep the spirits high, even when the team was below .500 before the All-Star break. The fans just didn’t notice because they were too focused on the team underperforming.
There are still many things Williams can improve on, but this season has shown he’s a crucial part of Boston’s lineup. Both on and off the pitch.
Unfortunately, Deuce still didn’t think he was worthy of post-game high-fives…