The Celtics performance against the Raptors was a wonderful Christmas gift. The presents kept coming, however. Brad Stevens provided a stocking stuffer surprise by giving more minutes to Grant Williams as a small-ball center.
Although this positional experiment has been happening throughout the duration of the season, Stevens has been conducting it with more frequency lately. What have the results yielded?
Despite not having favorable measurements (6-6, 6-9.75 wingspan, 240 lbs) for a center, Williams has managed to be a net positive at a rim protector. Stevens gambles that Williams’ fundamentals, intellect, and underrated agility will do more than compensate for his lack of elite wingspan.
Turns out, Stevens is one of the more heralded NBA coaches for a reason. The Celtics’ top 20 most played lineups are listed on basketball-reference.com. Williams has spent 25:42 minutes as the small ball five and the team is plus 101.7 in points during that span. What’s more, they are stealing the ball at an awesome rate.
How do lineups with Williams at center look when he’s on the court? Fast. Very, very fast. Watch the first-rounder fly from the perimeter to the baseline before blocking Joe Harris in the paint. Can other Boston bigs make this play?
In addition to his ability to cover distances, Williams’ IQ is also in display in that clip. He checks in on his main responsibility, Jarrett Allen, before realizing he is free to contest Harris.
Part of what makes Williams playable at the five is his rock-solid fundamentals. He is aware of his lack of length and leaping ability and overcomes this by getting his hands high before his opponent launches a shot. He knows where this shot will be and is simply waiting for Nic Batum to go up.
Despite playing fewer minutes than Enes Kanter as the paint enforcer, Williams actually has three more blocks. He may not scare opponents away from the paint but, he is not giving up easy looks there either. It is his switchability, however, that may be most valuable.
Not too many forwards or bigs want to find themselves guarding a streaking Kyle Lowry 30 feet away from the bucket. Williams did just that versus Toronto and performed perfectly. He shuffled his feet, legally bumped Lowry and then kept his hands high to reject the shot.
Williams made a similar play versus the shifty Devonte’ Graham. Perhaps the most fun part of this play is when he shoves Marvin Williams out of the screen. After that, Williams keeps his butt low and those feet moving before altering Graham’s shot enough to cause an ugly miss.
Before some of William’s deficiencies are discussed, check out a highlight that in one play encaptures every quality previous detailed.
Despite his success as an undersized big, Williams indeed has some limitations. With a wingspan of just under 6-foot-10, the former Volunteer doesn’t measure up to NBA shot-blocking standards. Despite rotating over in time, Williams is not able to alter Chris Boucher’s shot without fouling him.
There is a reason we have not seen Williams swat a shot into the second row like his teammate, Robert Williams. Timelord often gathers to jump off of two feet before going up like a volleyball player to reject a shot. He does this knowing he can depend on his massive wingspan to protect the cup.
Grant does not have this luxury. Keep an eye on his arms as he launches off of two feet. They remain straight up. It is not difficult to picture Timelord blocking this attempt, using physical gifts that his teammate simply does not have.
It will be interesting to see how the big man rotation pans out when Robert Williams returns from injury. Kanter has played well enough to stay on the floor. Theis has been awesome as well. Yet, Stevens could opt to play Williams at the five spot when he wants to take advantage of quickness and switchability. This will be a fun narrative to watch play out as the Celtics transition into 2020.