Grant Williams: Role
Exceptionally smart player on both ends of the court
High-level passer in any situation
Skilled post player
Very strong frame
Lackluster athletic tools
Jump shot does not currently extend to NBA 3-point range
Quicker players can sometimes beat his on-ball defense
Offensive role at Tennessee
Williams is primarily a post threat and an above-the-break screener at Tennessee, but his role is big enough that he has accrued at least a few possessions in nearly every play type. In the post he is a rare play-through player, looking to pass first and score second. By picking his spots to attack and getting his teammates involved, Tennessee has scored over 1.2 points per possession on his more than 220 scoring attempts and passes from the post. He’s a strong big-to-big and weak-side passer from the block or the elbow, and has the agility to get into the scoring motion quickly from back-to-the-basket situations. He has flashed some impressive ability as a pick-and-roll screener despite it being an infrequent action in Tennessee’s offense. He sets solid screens, and his ability to threaten the defense with either a pop or a roll makes life difficult for defenders. Further, his passing on the short roll allows the ball-handler to play through him with a pocket pass.
Offensive role projection -
Williams most effective role at the next level will be in the pick and roll. While his jump shot may take a few years to become consistent from 3-point range, there are no significant form issues likely to hold him back. Once this is a weapon he will be an effective dual threat either popping into open space or operating as a short-roll facilitator. This ability to play through him as a roll man will help produce good team offense through this simple action. While his issues finishing against length may prevent him from threatening the defense with hard rolls to the rim, he would excel as a 4-on-3 ball-handler if paired with a guard capable of drawing two defenders on the perimeter.
When not involved in ball screen actions, Williams likely will spend most of his time spacing the floor. Likely to be an average to above-average shooting threat at the 4, his ability to attack closeouts and swing the ball decisively will allow him to select high quality spot-up looks rather than forcing up questionable shots.
While primarily a post threat at the college level, expect Williams’ shot distribution to undergo a similar transformation as did Kevin Love’s from college to the pros (to be clear, I’m only comparing the shot distribution here). This means shifting his domain from the block more to the elbow, and gradually out to the wing. In time, the post-up will be merely a situational weapon, a way to attack switches or expose a small-ball lineup. His post skills will be applicable in other areas, as he often makes use of these skills by turning drives into pseudo post-ups or when he has a pivot foot at the elbow or on the wing.
Defensive role at Tennessee
Williams is a 4 in the Tennessee defense, which leaves him defending spot-up shooters or post threats most of the time. He is comfortable both on the interior and the perimeter. He does an excellent job with off-ball positioning, making it very difficult for opponents to get the ball in an advantageous position. He is also attentive to rotating both within the scheme and to cover for a teammate’s mistake. On the perimeter he can struggle with high quality change-of-direction moves. He seems to be more comfortable in the corners or on the wing than near the top of the key, where he can play chess with angling instead of situations where the ball-handler can drive either direction with similar effect. In the post he is an immovable object, holding his ground and using active hands to disrupt the opponent’s moves.
His consistency on defense, particularly off-ball and as a helper, makes a large impact on the team’s effectiveness. The ability to be effective both on the perimeter and interior gives the Tennessee defense a tactical advantage it otherwise lacks, likely a contributing factor to his on/off defensive splits being the best on the team by a wide margin.
Defensive role projection -
Williams lacks the lateral quickness to defend NBA 3s or the height and length to defend NBA 5s, at least on a full time basis. While he can hold his own on a switch, his primary position needs to the be the 4 in order to be effective. Placed in the proper role, however, he can make a significant impact at the team level. His off-ball defense, particularly in one-pass-away situations, will make it very difficult for his man to get the ball in an advantageous position. Moreover, the trend of floor spacing 4s plays into his strengths, placing him away from the primary action where he can both check his man and make an impact with crisp help rotations.
More dynamic playmaking 4s may prove tougher for Williams to handle, though his generally good technique and effective communication should make it workable on a team defense level. As long as he’s not on an island with more dynamic players he will be effective, though there will likely be a some lowlights when teams force an early switch with a high pick-and-roll.
Why Williams will earn minutes as a rookie
Williams will get on the court as a rookie because of his smart ball movement, good decision making, solid defense and strong motor. He’s willing to do all of the little things that coaches love and that contribute to team success. He’s capable of scoring on-ball but more than willing to accept a lower usage role where the focus is on elevating teammates; that makes him an easy fit into most offenses. Defensively his awareness and motor will enable him to make an impact. Moreover, he will be a quick study of team defensive schemes and of opposing player tendencies. All-in-all, consistent rotation minutes are likely in the cards, perhaps in the 20-25 minutes-per-game range.
Why Williams’ minutes may be limited as a rookie
Three things could hold Williams back initially. First, while his jump shot is projectable, it isn’t a weapon today. The need for floor spacing may find him riding the pine in favor of a stretchier player. Second, his limited positionality means he will appear on the depth chart at only one spot. If he’s drafted to a team with entrenched veterans ahead of him, it may be difficult to carve out a role. Third, his issues with change of direction at the point of attack may prove to be a problem that coaches choose not to scheme around early on, limiting his playing time rather than working around the issue.