Discover more from Celtics Film Room
What's going on with Grant Williams?
There's no excuse at this point
This time last year, Grant Williams was enjoying a significant role within the Boston Celtics playoff rotation. The ‘Batman’ played in all 24 postseason games and averaged 27.3 minutes per night, as Ime Udoka entrusted him to be a pivotal member of the team’s offensive and defensive scheme.
Fast forward to the present day, and Grant Williams is seemingly an afterthought in Joe Mazzulla’s rotational plans.
Losing his place in the Celtics rotation after the All-Star break due to a sharp decline in production, Grant has become more accustomed to the bench than his usual spot in the corner. However, every player goes through slumps, especially those who don’t have a consistent role within a rotation.
It’s easy to forget that Sam Hauser had a serious stretch of games where he couldn’t buy a bucket earlier in the season, yet Mazzulla kept faith in the sophomore sharpshooter, and eventually, things turned around. For some reason, though, Grant hasn’t been given the same opportunity.
First of all, let’s clear up the elephant in the room. There’s no doubt that Grant’s three-point shot declined in the latter part of the season, yet it didn’t fall off a cliff. In the 21 games after the All-Star break, Grant shot 34.2% from deep while taking 3.6 attempts per game.
Ok, it’s a big drop from the 41.4% he shot during the first 58 games of the year, but it’s not unplayable by any stretch. Shit, Al Horford has shot 30% from deep during the postseason, and not once have I - or anyone else - called for him to be benched.
Basketball is about far more than the points you put on the board, after all.
Especially when you're a diverse defender who can switch up and down multiple positions, bang with big bodies, and have added some DHO creation and baseline drives to your game.
Most importantly, though, when on the court, Grant is making a positive impact. According to Cleaning The Glass, which filters out garbage time minutes, the Celtics are +5.3 points better per 100 possessions when Grant is on the floor.
So what gives? Well, according to Mazzulla, the Celtics are simply making use of their depth, which is why both Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser have received minutes over Grant during the current postseason run.
“Obviously, in the playoffs, when minutes are expanding, you look to play seven or eight guys, which we’ve kind of done throughout,” Mazzulla said following Thursday’s practice session. “I think Payton gave us an opportunity with his shooting, his playmaking, and his pick-and-roll defense. Like we said before, Grant is always going to be ready and we’ve built a lot of versatility and depth in our lineup to where we can go a lot of different ways. We trust that anybody we call will be ready.”
Look, I like Payton Pritchard. I even said on an Instagram live before game 1 that I thought the series against the Miami Heat would suit Pritchard’s playstyle and that there would be areas he could exploit. Never in a million years did I think a guard, who has been buried in the rotation all season, would get the nod before Grant did.
Yet, here we are.
There has to be more to this…right?
Could it be that Grant doesn’t fit into Mazzulla’s long-term plans or that Mazzulla thinks his impending foray into free agency is distracting him?
Is there a disconnect in personalities?
Is Grant injured? Or dealing with the elbow injury he sustained earlier in the season?
Or is it simply that Mazzulla believes that Grant is part of the depth rotation rather than the core unit?
Any of these could be true. Most likely, it’s a mixture of those reasons, plus some that we aren’t privy to. Yet one thing is for sure — Mazzulla is playing this close to his chest, despite the consistent calls for Grant to get some run in a series that clearly suits his skill set.
“Joe Mazzulla hasn't explained once this season why a 27 MPG player from one year ago who didn't receive a single DNP-CD has regularly played 0 minutes since February, other than talking about him like he's not in the rotation and is just staying ready. What happened?” Bobby Manning of CLNS and CelticsBlog Tweeted on Thursday.
Regardless of why Grant isn’t getting much run, it’s worth looking at how he’s faired against the Heat this season.
Oct 21: 25 mins, 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 66.7% from the field, 50% from deep
November 30: 31 mins, 3 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steals, 25% shooting
December 2: 33 mins, 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 75% from the field, 66.7% from deep
January 24: 36 mins, 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 50% shooting, 100% from deep
So, you mean to tell me that Grant was entrusted with playing an average of 31.1 minutes per game against the Heat during the regular season, where he made a reliable impact, but he can’t crack the rotation in the postseason?
I call shenanigans.
Here’s a clip of Grant from early in the season, November 16 to be exact, full of confidence, trusting his offseason development plan, and gunning for a new contract.
The result? A fake DHO, step-back three off the dribble.
More impressive? Grant made that play via a read after the Hornets denied Derrick White’s pindown as the Celtics looked to flow into a Zoom action to get Jayson Tatum receiving the hand-off and attacking from atop the perimeter.
That’s the version of Grant we were seeing during the early parts of the season.
That’s the version of Grant we could be getting if he was allowed to play through his slump and find some rhythm again.
Instead, he’s registered a total of 116 playoff minutes, with all but 35 of them coming against the Philadelphia 76ers. Ok, Grant didn’t play well in those minutes, but in fairness, he was tasked with guarding Joel Embiid for the most part and was consistently hunted by James Harden — not the easiest of assignments.
There are six games remaining in the Eastern Conference Finals. Six games to make good on your promise of getting back to the biggest stage in the NBA on the first try. It makes sense that you would utilize a significant part of last season’s run if you wanted to get back there.
I can’t see any good reason for Grant to sit out game two. I haven’t seen a good reason for him missing games since the All-Star break. So, if we once again see him register a DNP-CD or some ridiculous 5-minute cameo, someone needs to be pressing Mazzulla on the real reason why he lost his place in the rotation. Because if it were due to injury, it would be showing on the injury report.
There has to be something we’re missing.
Celtics Film Room is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.