For whatever reason, Boston has a reputation for being a crappy destination for professional athletes, particularly NBA players. The Celtics long have had issues with attracting star free agents, and recent reports indicate Kyrie Irving came to hate the Commonwealth after an initial love affair wore off. Be it the franchise, the city, or a combination of the two, players seem to hate the idea of playing for the Celtics.
That’s why Grant Williams is such a breath of fresh air.
The Celtics selected the Tennessee product with the 22nd pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. And it didn’t take long for the charismatic forward (whose mother is a NASA engineer) to ingratiate himself with Green Teamers.
Shortly after Williams was drafted, a video featuring him calling out Kyrie Irving for his flat-Earth beliefs went viral. Given the current state of Boston’s relationship with Irving, that’s as good of a way as any to leave a strong first impression.
It’s what Williams said during his post-draft interviews that really stands out, however. Williams, who was overcome with emotion upon hearing his name called Thursday night, sounded legitimately grateful to chosen by one of the most storied franchises in North American professional sports. In many ways, Williams sounded like a man who feels unworthy of playing at TD Garden — a notion that’s as ludicrous as it is remarkably humble.
Furthermore, Williams doesn’t sound like someone who’s faking it, which is what Irving clearly was doing all along. He seems genuinely floored to be a member of the Celtics, but also understands the larger task at hand.
“No doubt. I’m walking in the clouds, and I don’t want to come down,” Williams said Friday during an appearance on Paul Finebaum’s radio show. “We’re gonna do whatever it takes to stay up there, and to keep winning in Boston. That’s a playoff team, and I don’t want to be the guy that’s lost that.”
Of course, Williams’ personality and intellect will do little to determine his NBA future. So, what does he bring to the table?
Let’s start with the negatives. At 6-foot-7, 236 pounds, Williams is too short to be an NBA power forward and too big to be a guard. He also lacks the superior athleticism and shooting ability (29.1 percent 3-pointer shooter in college) to be a weapon on the wing.
Translation: He’s a “tweener,” à la Jared Sullinger. But that’s where the comparisons to the former Celtics forward (who now plays in China) should stop.
There’s a lot to like in Williams’ game. The first-team All-American did a little bit of everything for the Volunteers, averaging 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks in his junior season. Throughout his collegiate career, Williams built a reputation for being a team-first guy, one who leads by example with a hard-nosed, tenacious style of play. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like Jared Sullinger.
(For what it’s worth, Williams has drawn comparisons to Draymond Green, P.J. Tucker and David West.)
It’s on the defensive end where Williams likely will make his biggest impact, at least early on. Between his defensive prowess and obvious leadership skills, Williams has a chance to function as something of a second Marcus Smart for the Celtics.
“I say this: It’s not about who you can score on in the league; it’s about who you can guard,” Williams said before the draft, via 247 sports. “And right now, if you were to ask me who I can guard, it’s any position from three to five. But I’m trying to expand that and go from there and try to expand it to ones and twos and be able to put me in any position on the court.
“ … Offensively, I feel like I’m comfortable enough to play the game the right way, but it’s always been about the defensive end.”
There’s no telling whether Williams will succeed or fail in the NBA. Sometimes players like him can out-work and out-think their way to stardom, and sometimes they get exposed on the professional level. Where Williams falls on this spectrum won’t be determined until at least a few years pass.
For now, Celtics fans — disheartened from watching one of the most unlikable groups in team history — should be excited about gaining one of the most likable players in this year’s draft class.