Grant Williams could present Celtics with a good problem to have this offseason

"His versatility as I talk about, he’s like a mini Al [Horford] out there."

Grant Williams
Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton takes a shot at the basket over the arms of Boston Celtics center Al Horford as Celtics forward Grant Williams looks on. AP Photo/Steven Senne

Grant Williams has improved so much this season, he presents the Celtics with something of a problem whenever this playoff run ends.

Williams demands your attention. Many Celtics fans who gave up on him last year perked up when he became one of the league’s best 3-point shooters this season. Those who didn’t buy in immediately were forced to do so when he shut down Kevin Durant in the first round. Now he’s doing things like this to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

All the while, Williams has improved as a 3-point shooter so thoroughly, that opposing teams will need to reshuffle their defensive priorities. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can (and often will) beat you, and Tatum in particular needs to be defended accordingly — the fact that he now requires a double team at all times when he has the ball is essentially the guiding theory behind the Celtics’ offensive plan.


But you can’t dare Williams to beat you with 3-pointers anymore because, well, he might do it too. Williams finished 6-for-9 from 3-point range on Tuesday in the most important game of his young career and dropped 21 points total. As his offensive game improves, he will become even more dangerous.

Grant Williams is good, and he’s crucial to the Celtics’ success in the postseason. That’s one of many true statements about this Celtics team that would have sounded insane before the season but is now self-evidently true.


Clearly, the Celtics hope they have a lot more playoff games to establish exactly how highly they should value their third-year forward in his rookie extension discussions, but in consecutive series’ now, Williams has harassed and frustrated two players so talented and physically gifted, they are nearly impossible to frustrate. Whenever the season ends, Williams and the Celtics will find themselves in an intriguing position.

The Celtics will pay the luxury tax for the foreseeable future — essentially as long as they hope to contend with Tatum and Brown — so staying below a certain number isn’t important. But minutes next season might be difficult to work out. After all, for as good as Grant Williams has been, Robert Williams at his best has been even better, as has Al Horford. Robert Williams will be on the first year of his rookie extension next year. Horford’s deal is partially guaranteed at $14.5 million, but you can bet the Celtics will be happy to fork over the full $26.5 million necessary to keep him on the roster after he turned back the clock once again this year and proved invaluable to the team.


On the other hand, giving Grant Williams a rookie extension has some real benefits. We’ve learned a lot about Williams’ work ethic over the last few years, and he profiles as a player with a lot of room to get better. As a rookie, he spent hours before games pouring over film with Celtics assistant coaches, learning how to guard quicker players and perfecting things as minuscule as how to measure himself against floorboards to stay vertical while contesting around the rim. In his second season, he tried to transition to a small-ball big role. In his third season, he leveraged all of his experience guarding bigs and guards and has become a playoff stopper — so talented defensively that Stan Van Gundy speculated on the TNT broadcast Tuesday that he could compete for a Defensive Player of the Year award someday.

Defensive Player of the Year candidates don’t come cheap, but the Celtics could probably still lock Williams in at a discount if they can get him to agree to a rookie extension. After all, the power of guaranteed generational wealth is difficult to pass up, even if Williams might make more by waiting until restricted free agency the next summer.


But the fact that Williams could wait until restricted agency gives him leverage. Don’t use Robert Williams as a barometer for Grant’s contract — Robert was oft-injured prior to this season, and while his potential was enormous, the risk of giving him a hefty bag was nearly equally so. Grant played 77 games this season in the regular season, and he is currently demonstrating his value in the postseason. The question for Grant isn’t potential — although he still has plenty. The question is how much the Celtics are willing to pay given his age and demonstrable value.

This is not a “problem” per se, especially since the Celtics can just sign Williams with Bird rights (it’s Wyc Grousbeck’s money, after all).

But Williams looks like a starter. When he replaced Horford in the starting lineup for 225 possessions during the regular season, the Celtics obliterated opponents by 33.3 points per 100 possessions (his overall on/off numbers with Robert Williams were tanked a bit by a disastrous group that featured Dennis Schröder). He spaces the floor. He defends at a high level. As he improves attacking closeouts, those numbers could go even higher.

“His versatility as I talk about, he’s like a mini Al out there,” Ime Udoka said on Tuesday. “We ask him to do the same things and where other guys are making plays. His shot-making ability, he’s been doing that all year, but his versatility and being able to switch onto guards and guard him one-on-one in the post and be physical and frustrate him to some extent is what we need with a player like that.”


The Celtics have a ton of versatility, and Williams — another hyper-versatile player — knocking on the door of a starting lineup that was already the best in the league.

Again, it’s a little complicated, but it’s not a bad problem to have.


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