Grant Williams has been constantly overlooked for the Boston Celtics but continues to prove people wrong every time he steps on the court.
More can be learned about Grant Williams from his unusual childhood anecdotes than his play on the court. Stories that make him one of the most debated prospects in recent history, with high confidence, intelligence and maturity, fitting in perfectly with the Boston Celtics.
Although Williams had several family members in the NBA – his uncle was one of the original Globetrotters. His father, Gilbert, was a Division II star. His cousins, Salim and Damon Stoudamire, had prominent basketball careers – it seems like the chubby Grant did not share the same DNA.
He did, however, get something arguably more valuable, his mother’s intellect. Teresa Johnson is a NASA engineer, who regularly communicated from North Carolina to Houston, raised Grant to pursue his educational curiosities.
Williams was a self-proclaimed renaissance man in high school and college, whose most significant accomplishment was beating the number one chess player in the world. Williams went on the study nearly a dozen instruments, sing in school musicals and is currently attempting to become bilingual.
As a teenager, no one seemed to take Williams’ interest in basketball seriously. After making a few calls, Williams even had to beg to be put on the ESPN rankings. Even as a senior, the 6′ 3″ 285-pound big man was the third-best player on the team, behind Devin Dobson and Trey Wentz. Williams finished with per-game averages of15.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 blocks.
The only one that believed in Williams was Desmond Oliver, finding him before his senior year in a summer circuit. Oliver was a Texas scout when he discovered Grant but moved to Tennessee with head coach Rick Barnes, where they would offer Williams a scholarship.
His high school career concluded with a state championship victory over nationally-ranked High Christain, led by Kentucky commit Bam Adebayo.
After the game, Grant had to decide his future. Williams had the option to go to Ivy League schools, including Yale and Harvard, or pursue his basketball dreams at Tennessee. Needless to say, the now 6′ 7″ forward decided to play under Barnes, registering himself into fat camp along with teammate Admiral Schofield, leading to two-month-long shunning from his mother.
Williams was immediately given the role of a starter, seen as Barnes’ next ‘P.J. Tucker in the Tennessee offense, winning SEC All-Freshman honors. He began to find his real strength as a junior, which was ironically his remarkable body strength. Through his newly built frame, Williams was able to bully his way into the post while playing great perimeter defense, becoming an All-American and attaining his second SEC POY in his senior year.
“For me, it’s always been not to prove people wrong, but to prove myself right. I have confidence in myself, that what I’m doing now I can do at the next level. I just need one person to give [me] the opportunity.”
In his pre-draft workouts, Williams was invited to the P3 Sports Science facilities, testing players in the NBA as well as top prospects strength. Williams was in the 96th percentile of all players tested, which sparked a wave of attention. However, unlike the majority of prospects, most teams realized that Williams was in the rare bunch of players that would need to change his game to make it into the NBA. The NBA transition for players in similar positions has destroyed careers, egos and the team’s futures in the past. But if it has not been made apparent already, Grant is different.
In an interview with Shams Charania, Williams showed he knew his inherent role in the NBA, at least initially. Williams looked to P.J. Tucker, who played nearly the identical role for Rick Barnes at Texas and came into the NBA as a role player.
Another comparison he made was to Draymond Green, a star in college who was able to defend particularly anyone with his strength and mouth. Williams had bigger aspirations though. He looked up to be Kawhi Leonard because of his unusual path to stardom, beginning as a hard-working bench warmer.
Williams decided to enter the 2019 draft after receiving his bachelor’s degree in supply chain management. He showed up to his pre-draft interview, as he did for every other team, with team information, prepared questions and a smile. Amidst his unsung maternity, leadership and work ethic, Danny Ainge became inquisitive about the young big man.
Luckily, the Celtics had the 22nd pick in the draft, where they were able to take the now 6′ 7″ big man out of Tennessee. ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas, said “I am a little surprised,” when the Celtics took him, which Williams remembers to this day.
In Willaims rookie season with the Celtics, he has mostly been in a reserve role, playing only 15.6 minutes a game. But he as already established his role as a vocal team leader. On and off the court, he has already made a difference in Boston and is seemingly just at the beginning of his journey.
Brad Stevens seems to have a philosophy of treating rookies as perilous pieces, not fully ready for the NBA. Robert Williams III, Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford, as well as others have played most of their minutes when the team was way ahead, surrounding them with starters with their limited minutes.
Which in part led to some of the best on/offs per 100 number in the NBA, positive in every category, except turnovers. And the death lineup of Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Williams has been the team’s most efficient, even though they have not played together much.
Williams knew he needed to work on his range to carve out a spot in the rotation. However, his season did not start how he expected. Grant missed his first 25 shots from deep, regularly getting made fun of by fans and players.
But all of a sudden, they started to go in on a consistent rate. To be fair, he was given many more wide-open chances, but he still was able to make over 40 percent of his shots in the next month. Since his original cold streak, he has shot 35.0 percent from three for the season and continues to work on that part of his game.
“As far as coming in and doing things and picking things up quick, from a strategy standpoint and also from an intuitive standpoint, he’s pretty impressive.”
He already learned what is going to be his real strength in the future. The defense IQ and muscle of a big who can defend any player one through five is a rare advantage for any team. If Williams can improve on his footwork, there is no question he can put himself in conversation with the top defenders in the game.
Although he has to continue to improve on these skills to use it in the NBA, Williams is still the same offensive player, with the same IQ, great playmaking abilities and incredible efficiency in the post. If he can continue to work on his outside game, Williams can be a main staple in the NBA for a long time on both sides of the ball.
Always undervalued, underappreciated and overlooked, Grant has had constant motivation and can hide it under his boastful smile. The perfect story that shows the character of Williams was around Christmas, where he wanted to hone his candle making hobby. He did so by giving every Celtics employee a candle with a personalized message. A small gesture, but one that shows the effort that Williams makes for kindness.
The Boston Celtics forward may be an older rookie at 22-years-old, but his attitude towards learning and practice seems to be leading to constant improvement and development. Another trait that makes the comparison to Kawhi seem almost reasonable.
While scoring just 3.5 points per game, Williams has already proved that you can be a difference off the court. And on the court, with the work ethic of late bloomers like Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Williams can become a star on the hardwood. Unlike most, Williams was forced to confide to a new playstyle in the NBA. Nevertheless, he has found his place as a player and a teammate.