BOSTON — Call him the Greek God of Plus/Minus.
Or maybe, given Grant Williams’ Charlotte roots, The Queen City King of Plus/Minus is more appropriate. The bottom line is good things tend to happen whenever Williams steps on a basketball court.
Consider this: In Williams’ first four appearances after being drafted by the Celtics with the No. 22 pick in the 2019 draft, he topped Boston's summer squad in plus/minus during its stint in Las Vegas. He was plus-21 against the 76ers, plus-20 against the Cavaliers, plus-16 against the Nuggets, and plus-25 against the Grizzlies.
Williams was plus-82 overall during his first 88 minutes of floor time in games the Celtics won by a total of 70 points. He only briefly showed mortality when Boston’s summer squad mentally downshifted in a summer-ending rematch with Memphis (Williams was minus-8 over 30 minutes in that game).
On Sunday, while making his preseason debut for the Celtics, Williams was up to his old tricks. He was a team-best plus-14 over 18 minutes of play while helping Boston rally for a 107-106 triumph over his hometown Hornets.
The Celtics, essentially, have outscored opponents by 93 points during Williams’ first 136 minutes in a Boston uniform.
Most players that emerge as statistical darlings embrace the analytics. Williams, however, admitted over the summer that he didn’t even know how plus/minus was calculated. Now he knows the simplicity of it — the point differential when a player is on the court — but he’s not rushing to champion a statistic that most readily admit is quite noisy to begin with.
"I feel like statistics are going to be a part of the game but I don’t focus too much on them,” shrugged Williams. "My whole thing is just a desire to help my team win. Sure, stats might say something. I just focus on whether or not you get the win or loss.”
There is a danger in putting too much stock in plus/minus, and especially so in games that don’t matter. Alas, it’s still uncanny that Williams could top the team in five of his first six games, and all produced wins.
"For me, it’s more like as long as I’m making the right reads and doing the right things while I’m on the court, then that’s when I’m content,” said Williams. "I don’t really pay much attention to — before or after a game — going through thinking I gotta lead the team in this one category. My whole thing is, whatever impact I make on the court, if I’m doing my job, that’s all that matters.”
That team-first mentality — along with a basketball IQ that’s well beyond his 20 years — has endeared Williams to his new coaches and teammates. Likewise, his strength is advanced for his age and that gives him a chance to joust with NBA giants. The, ahem, big question is whether Williams, who measured a mere 6-foot-6 without shoes, can thrive among NBA giants.
The Celtics are hoping he can find a way to let his IQ and technique negate his height, not unlike, say, Draymond Green (who is now listed at 6-foot-5 in the NBA’s new shoe-less measurements).
In his preseason debut, Williams didn’t shoot the ball well (2 of 7 overall and missed all three 3-pointers attempted), had a couple turnovers, and committed five fouls. And yet the good still outweighed the bad as he grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and had a two-handed block on 7-foot Cody Zeller. Williams got credited with two charges drawn as well.
Where exactly does Williams’ eye land when he does look at a box score?
"If I look at the box score, it’s typically about matchups — somebody who I guarded and just to see how he performed, or how the team performed and how we reacted to those guys,” said Williams. "Say we go into a game and we know a guy’s averaging 26 points per game and he’s prolific at doing something like 3-point shooting, and we held him to 1-for-9 for 3 or we held him to 23 points or something below his average, that’s what I’ll take a look at if I’m looking at the box score.”
After Tuesday’s practice at the Auerbach Center, Marcus Smart called Williams over for a brief chat. Smart, as he has done throughout camp, wanted to offer a few pointers that might help Williams adjust to the NBA game. Williams yearns to be a bigger version of Smart, the sort of player who impacts the game in ways well beyond scoring output.
For now, Williams is simply soaking up all the information he can and make sure he’s in the right spots on the court. He admitted it was a bit surreal experiencing his first game Sunday inside TD Garden.
"It was definitely one of those things where you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s finally here.’ You kinda just look around and you’re like, ‘This is amazing,’” said Williams. “Before the game, I said this sorta feels like 2K, the only thing is you can’t send yourself into the game. But it was cool. You’re in TD Garden, you’re looking around, you see all the banners, all the fans, and you’re playing against the Hornets — my hometown team — so it’s like, ‘Wow, this is different.’”
The game might be different but Williams’ impact has been the same. As the Celtics and a question mark-filled frontcourt search for ways to replace the departures of players like Al Horford, there’s going to be an opportunity for rookies to make an impact this season.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens often suggests the best thing a player can do is impact winning. Plus/minus might not be the best gauge of that but, well, it’s hard to suggest that Williams isn't having a positive impact early in his Celtics career.
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