Celtics

Grant Williams part of new class of NBA players in reboot — experienced rookie

Grant Williams part of new class of NBA players in reboot — experienced rookie

The NBA calendar looks nothing like what we’re used to after a four-month pause courtesy of the global coronavirus pandemic.

This once-in-a-lifetime new look to the season has created a new class of NBA players — experienced rookies. 

“If you ask any of the guys on the team, I’m still a rookie,” said Williams. 

Maybe so, but Williams and most of his fellow first-year players are unlike any rookie class the league has seen before. 

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The extended time away from the game due to the pandemic afforded them what amounts to an in-season offseason. 

And while this holds true for veterans as well, vets have the luxury of how to make the most of their downtime because they’ve been there and done that before. For rookies like Williams, the stoppage of play was in many respects their first offseason, making the reboot to the season more like season No. 2 for them. 

That time away did more than provide youngsters like Williams a chance to heal up some of the many bumps and bruises that reminded them on a daily basis that this ain’t college!

But the time off also afforded them the benefit of perspective; that is, to see where they are at and what they must do to get better with the knowledge that an opportunity to put all that together in a meaningful, purposeful way would be coming soon. 

It’s clear that Williams has used the downtime to prepare to be an impactful player for the Celtics, void of the concerns, uncertainty and nervousness that he was feeling at the start of the season. 

While he was a two-time SEC Player of the Year, Williams entered the NBA as a late first-round pick whose impact in both the short and long-term for Boston was unclear. But as the season wore on and he continued to see playing time, Williams admits it built up a much greater level of comfort for him heading into the restart to the season at the end of this month. 

“During the year you get more accustomed and realize you belong here,” Williams said. “For me it’s more confidence, more able to do a lot of better things on the court.”

And while the Celtics are among the top teams in the East this season, their success in making a deep playoff run will hinge to some degree on how many low-key X-factors step up and contribute — players like Williams, who saw more playing time as a rookie than any of Boston’s other first-year players. 

Williams appeared in 62 games (5 starts) while averaging 3.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 15.6 minutes per game. In his five starts (Boston went 4-1 in those games), he averaged 5.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center praises Brad Stevens for explanation of less playing time

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center praises Brad Stevens for explanation of less playing time

The Boston Celtics committed to Brad Stevens with a contract extension earlier this week, and it isn't difficult to see why.

The C's head coach has received rave reviews from players and staff who have had the opportunity to work alongside him in Boston over the last seven years. Not only has Stevens done a phenomenal job leading the team on the court, but possibly even more importantly, he's been able to connect with his players off of it.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

In a brand new episode of the Enes Kanter Show, the Celtics center explains to Chris Forsberg what makes Stevens such a great head coach.

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics’ dodgeball games and getting ready to joust with Joel Embiid and the Sixers | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"What makes him so special is what he does off the court," Kanter said about Stevens. "He's the type of coach that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Always keeps it 100 percent real with you. More than a coach, he's just a friend, man. You can literally go to talk to him about anything."

Kanter, who has seen his minutes reduced lately in the Orlando bubble, praised Stevens for how he communicated with him about his decrease in playing time.

"There were some games where I was not playing a lot," said Kanter. "I went to his room and we talked, and he was like, 'Hey, listen, it's your ninth year now and there's so many young guys that are looking up to you. Your best strength is not the offensive rebound. Your best strength is not the post-ups, not the finishes and everything. Your best strength is just being a good teammate. Just trying to give positive energy. And that's what we need from you in the games where you don't play.'

"I mean, look, not every coach is comfortable talking to their players. The Celtics organization definitely feels very special to have him on our side ... It's a blessing to have a person like him on our team."

Also discussed on the show: The story behind the Celtics' dodgeball game in the bubble, Kanter's frustration at Jayson Tatum "being good at everything," and how the Celtics can slow down Joel Embiid.

You can listen and subscribe to The Enes Kanter Show here, or watch on YouTube.

Celtics-76ers preview: What will Philly miss most from Ben Simmons?

Celtics-76ers preview: What will Philly miss most from Ben Simmons?

As we saw throughout most of Philadelphia’s seeding games, the 76ers losing Ben Simmons (left knee surgery) for the season was a huge blow. 

It’s one of the main reasons why the Boston Celtics are overwhelming favorites over their Eastern Conference rival in the teams' first-round playoff series, which begins on Monday.

So where will Simmons' absence be felt the most?

Defense

For all the impressive things Simmons does with the basketball, the Sixers will miss him most on the defensive side.

The 6-foot-10 Simmons boasts length, size and lateral quickness that causes problems for opponents offensively because of his pick-and-roll defensive potential that’s on display most nights.

Against the Celtics, Simmons spends most of his time on the floor guarding Boston’s top scorer, Jayson Tatum. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

In the four games the two teams played this season, three of which were won by Philly, Simmons limited Tatum’s impact each time. 

According to NBA.com/stats, Tatum shot 31.3 percent (5-for-16) in games in which he was guarded by Simmons this season. 

So, if Tatum puts up big-time numbers in this series, no one should be surprised considering the Sixers player who has consistently done the best job at defending him won’t be on the floor.

Offensive mismatches

A point guard trapped in a big man's body, Simmons has speed and strength that creates matchup problems on the perimeter as well as on the post.

The 24-year-old averaged 16.4 points along with 7.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists this season while shooting a team-best 58 percent from the field.

Celtics Talk Podcast: The Al Horford conundrum and why Sixers won’t last long vs. Celtics | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Simmons’ shooting range has been a topic of discussion for as long as he has been in the NBA. And while it creates a different kind of challenge for the Sixers when it comes to running their offense, the third-year pro has shown himself to be talented enough to still be a high-impact, difference-maker for Philly.

Playmaking

Soon after the Sixers arrived in the bubble, head coach Brett Brown talked about how the team was planning to play Simmons more at power forward to better utilize his versatility and create better spacing for the team’s perimeter shooters.

Like most of what the Sixers have tried to do this season, the few times we saw Simmons in that role it didn’t work. But his absence creates an even bigger hole when it comes to playmaking.

Shake Milton has moved into the starting lineup after putting together a string of impressive performances prior to the league being suspended in March.

However, his impact was greatest as a scorer, which is different from what he is being charged with now. Milton is averaging 12.5 points as a starter this season to go with 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists. 

No one is expecting him to put up Simmons-like numbers, but the more you watch Milton play and try to run Philly's offense, the clearer it becomes just how much Simmons’ presence is missed.