Celtics player spotlight: How Grant Williams can build on strong Year 3


It wasn't long ago that people were debating whether Grant Williams could be a useful player for the Boston Celtics.

The 2019 first-round draft pick had an underwhelming 2020-21 season in which he averaged just 4.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, along with 58.7 percent free throw shooting. 

Williams needed to show meaningful improvement in Year 3, and he more than lived up to the challenge.

He set career highs with 7.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game, along with a 90.7 percent rate at the free throw line while shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range. In addition to his offensive improvement, Williams earned more playing time -- a career-high 24.4 minutes per game and 21 starts -- with his quality defense, including the versatility to guard multiple positions. 

Williams carved out an important role for the Celtics as a 3-and-D player off the bench. His role was so critical that he received even more playing time (27.7 minutes per game) in the playoffs en route to Boston's appearance in the 2022 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

His best moment of the season came in a key spot -- Game 7 of the second round versus Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. Williams carried the Celtics to victory with a game-high 27 points, including a 7-for-18 mark on 3-pointers. 

Offseason spotlights: Jayson Tatum | Al Horford | Jaylen Brown | Robert Williams | Marcus Smart | Malcolm Brogdon | Derrick White | Payton Pritchard

We continue our Celtics player spotlight series by highlighting what Williams did last season and how he can maximize his impact as Boston tries to get back to the Finals.

Williams' 2021-22 stats

  • Regular season: 7.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1 apg, 47.5 percent FG, 41.1 percent 3PT (77 games)
  • Postseason: 8.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 apg, 43.3 percent FG, 39.3 percent 3PT (24 games)

Williams' contract situation

Williams is entering the final year of his rookie contract with a 2022-23 salary of $4,306,281, which also is his cap hit for next season.

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He is extension-eligible, and the Celtics will have until Oct. 18 to finalize a deal or they'll have to revisit it after the season. An extension in the $10-13 million per season range would be fair for both sides. Williams also could decide to bet on himself and forego an extension until next offseason, essentially hoping he improves even more during 2022-23 and increases his value.

What role will Williams play on the 2022-23 Celtics?

Williams should continue to be a valuable 3-and-D player off the bench, with the ability to make spot starts when injuries and load management force other guys out of the lineup. 

The 23-year-old forward showed an impressive ability to guard elite perimeter players during the 2022 playoffs. His defense against the likes of Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo played a key factor in the C's winning both of those series. Williams has enough quickness to stay with those players, in addition to the strength required to not get taken advantage of in the low post. 

Williams' versatility to play multiple positions (including center in small-ball lineups), his above-average defense and improved 3-point shooting make him among the most important bench players for Boston. He's essentially a smaller version of teammate Al Horford, and that's not a bad guy to model your game after.

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Williams' season will be a success if ...

... He continues to hit 40-plus percent from 3-point range with more volume.

Outside shooting is so critical in today's NBA, especially for a team like the Celtics that has two top-tier scorers in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, both of whom do a good job attacking the basket, drawing in multiple defenders and kicking out to open shooters on the perimeter.

One of those shooters last season was often Williams, who hit a career-best 41.1 percent of his 3-point field goals. He also attempted a career-high 3.4 3-pointers per game. The goal for Williams next season should be shooting around the 40 percent mark again but with a little more volume -- maybe around 4.5-5 attempts per game.

One of the benefits to Williams' improved outside shooting is defenders have to go out to the perimeter and guard him. He's no longer one of those guys you can give up open looks to on a regular basis. Williams has done a nice job attacking defenders when they close out on the perimeter and driving to the to rim. This is something he should do more of next season, especially if his 3-point shooting is near 40 percent again.

Biggest obstacle to Williams' success

... Consistency.

Williams played in 77 games last season and scored 10-plus points in consecutive games just six times. His longest streak with double-digit points was four games from Feb. 15 through Feb. 26. 

The playoffs were a rollercoaster for Williams. As mentioned above, he scored 27 points in a Game 7 win over the Bucks in Round 2. But he also scored just two in Game 6 of that series, zero points in Game 5, and under 10 in Game 1, 3 and 4. He had 21 points in Game 2.

Williams combined to score 14 points in Games 4-6 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Miami Heat. In the NBA Finals against the Warriors, Williams was held scoreless in Game 1 and poured in only three points in each of the final three games (all losses). 

Williams' defense was pretty good through the regular season and the playoffs, but he needs to be a more consistent offensive player to take his game to the next level and earn more playing time. The competition for minutes off the bench should be more intense next season after the C's acquired Malcom Brogdon (via trade) and Danilo Gallinari (free agency). 

Projected stats and prediction for Williams' 2022-23 season

Projected stats: 10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 46.4 percent FG, 39.8 percent 3PT

Williams could be playing for a contract extension, depending on whether he and the Celtics and work out something before the October deadline. If no deal is reached prior to that deadline, we should see a motivated Williams throughout the season. Another source of motivation for Williams should be his lackluster performance in the NBA Finals. He made little to no impact offensively in the series, and it hurt the Celtics' scoring depth. Hopefully for the C's, that disappointing finish fueled his offseason work.

Overall, Williams took a massive step forward last season, which was very encouraging for the Celtics. We should expect to see even more progress from him in 2022-23 after he carved out a valuable 3-and-D role.

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