Grant Williams: More than Strong, More than Smart
Grant Williams: 6’7.5”, 240-pounds, 6’9.75” wingspan, 31.5” max vertical, turns 21 in November, ranked 15th by Fenrich:
It’s been somewhat in vogue in recent seasons for a sub-culture of basketball players to develop what NBA Twitter likes to refer to as “thick jacked frames.” Players like Boston’s Semi Ojeyele and Marcus Smart, like Houston’s PJ Tucker, and draft prospects like Eric Paschall, Lou Dort, and Admiral Schofield come to mind. It’s entirely possible that Tennessee’s Grant Williams is the president of this subsect.
At 6-7, 240-pounds, Williams won the mythical “Strongest Prospect” award at the combine this year by pounding out 20 reps on the bench. Unlike some previous winners of the award like Jason Keep, Josh Duncan, and Russell Carter, the 20-year-old Williams is a well-rounded pro prospect whose attraction extends well-beyond his reps on the bench.
Organically developing themes are the best themes because they’re a good indicator of naturally occurring trends or insights (side thought: unconscious bias can easily skew the previous idea) and one theme that’s prevailed in several of my scouting writeups/player inspections, is the value of players who play within themselves and to their strengths. Williams, with his bulk and inside touch, played to his strength, spending nearly 30% of his possessions on post-ups where he scored 1.17 points-per-possession which landed him in the 97th percentile according to stats.nba.com. He’s high motor, highly focused player who frequently uses his strength to get deep into a post-up and root out taller, longer, and bigger opponents. He didn’t test exceptionally well on the vertical at the combine (31.5” max, 26” standing) and he isn’t the longest player (nearly 6-10 wingspan), but he’s functionally athletic, able to leverage his strength off two feet and dunk or finish over defenders.
In an NBA where post-ups are less emphasized, it’s hard to envision 30% of his possessions coming in the post and so you start looking around to see how and where Williams can score beyond the low block.
While 62% of his attempts came in and around the post area, Williams mixes in a variety of pull-ups and mid-range attempts that can start at either the elbow or off the catch or cut. Per the shot chart below, he’s well over 50% from the short mid-range. This is an area he likes to operate in, particularly from that elbow where he’ll mix in shot fakes and attack the rim or shoot pull-ups off the dribble. In terms of mechanics, his off-the-bounce pull-ups are less fluid than his off-screen or off-catch jumpers, but the mid-range is an area where he’s clearly confident, unlike beyond the perimeter.
As a junior, he shot 33% from deep on just 46 total attempts. While that’s an improvement on his career number of 29% on 103 attempts, it’s still a shot he doesn’t appear to shoot with confidence. His release is slow and if he’s pressured, he struggles to make it or just won’t shoot. This is both a positive and a negative. Positive in the sense that Williams prefers to seek out higher percentage shots. Negative in that we just walked away from an NBA Finals where below-average three point shooters like Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green were double dog dared to shoot threes and largely struggled with devastating consequences. It’s not that Green and Iguodala failed to add value in other areas, but that these two, otherwise elite players as defenders and passers, were able to be exploited for the one area they’re below average: shooting.
Williams has touch and improved on his free throw shooting from 67% to 76% to 82% on 7 attempts/game as a junior. The three-point shot didn’t develop with the same trend which is understandable given the extremely low volume. Williams doesn’t need the three ball to be an NBA player, but to be able to fully leverage his other attributes, he has to be better than he is today and that’s a calculated risk some team will have to make.
Beyond shooting, Williams’s defense and passing are both sound. Defensively, he goes hard with strong and active hands, sits low in a stance, and will dig in to keep up with his opponent. It’s not a matter of want, it’s a matter of genetics and Williams can struggle against long, energetic athletes. Against Vanderbilt freshman Simmi Shittu, a 6-9 forward/center, he was able to keep Shittu from getting deep position, but it didn’t matter because the longer freshman was able to easily go over him with jump hooks. Against Iowa’s Tyler Cook, a high-energy, bouncy forward, Williams looked stuck in mud at times. He’s smart enough and works hard enough that I imagine he’s aware of these shortcomings and will work to course correct, but he’ll continue to run into longer, bouncier players in the league.
On the passing front, Williams regularly impressed me with his vision and ability to make tough passes. In both transition and the half-court, he can make reads and is quick about it. This confidence in his decision making is an understated skill that should quickly payoff at the next level.
I landed with Williams at 15th on my big board. I don’t see him as a guy who’s ever a headlining star in the traditional shoe deal sense, but I see a player whose ceiling can potentially be as a starter on a championship team. He appears to have that type of wiring combined with strong character, on and off-court intelligence, and truly functional physical strength. That said, I think he needs to land somewhere with some semblance of continuity. At Tennessee, he played and grew with a handful of guys who went on the same journey at the same time as him. This continuity alone wasn’t the cause of Williams’s success, but I believe it facilitated it in ways we struggle to measure. Where he lands and who he’s surrounded by won’t make or break him, but it may be the difference between him realizing his potential and being just a good pro.