The Celtics get mad when Grant Williams misses 3-pointers now, and that’s actually been great for his confidence.
Earlier in his career, when his struggles from beyond the arc were apparent, his teammates would try to boost him with encouragement. Keep shooting, Grant. You’ll get the next one, Grant. Williams appreciated the gestures, but they were also indicators his difficulties were glaring.
He started his rookie season two years ago by missing 25 3-pointers in a row. When he finally connected on one, a meaningless dart late in a blowout win over the Cavaliers, the Celtics bench celebrated as if Williams had drilled a game-winning shot. Williams just wanted those moments to be normal.
Now, he said, his teammates see no need to become cheerleaders during his minor shooting slumps. If anything, they become frustrated with him because they know he can do better. And Williams prefers that approach to the little league, rah-rah stuff.
“They kind of let me be, because they know it’s going to turn around,” Williams said. “It makes me feel confident even more because they let it happen. They know shots are going to fall eventually, and it just worked out. I turned it back around.”
This season Williams is shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc. He leads the team and is ranked 18th in the NBA, ahead of snipers such as Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, and Buddy Hield. It’s a substantial improvement for a player who made 25 percent of his 3-point tries as a rookie and 37.2 percent last year.
On Saturday night Williams connected on 4 of 6 3-point attempts and scored 14 points in the Celtics’ 111-105 win over the Thunder that pushed them above .500 for the first time this season.
“Grant worked really hard this summer on his shooting, and being in those positions and situations that I think you’re starting to see it pay off,” Celtics forward Al Horford said. “Not only him but any of our guys. We’re always going to encourage them to continue to shoot, continue to stay shot-ready, gain those good looks.”
While the Celtics have certainly noticed Williams’s ascension, it seems that opposing defenses might remain a bit skeptical. Of the 58 3-pointers Williams has attempted this season, 43 have come without a defender within 6 feet of him, and only two have come with a defender within 4 feet of him.
He said that earlier in his career he sometimes passed up those good looks to get better shots for teammates, but he now understands that there is rarely a look that is better than an absolutely wide open one.
As defenses collapse on Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the surging Dennis Schröder, they must make decisions elsewhere, and they are continuing to bet that Williams’s scorching shooting will not last. But at some point, that approach will likely shift, and Williams is eager to see how it benefits the rest of the team when it does.
“I think that will help them so much, being able to knock those shots down so teams can’t crowd the paint or load up like they are against them,” Williams said. “We’re asking them to do a lot, which is understandably difficult. And it’s our job to make their jobs easier. That’s kind of the step we have to take.”
Williams has been a reliable outlet for Boston’s leading scorers. He has been most effective camping out in the corners, where he has connected on a blistering 15 of 27 attempts (55.5 percent). He is not forcing plays outside of his comfort zone, either. All 25 of his made 3-pointers have been catch-and-shoot tries. Of his 58 attempts, he has held onto the ball for longer than two seconds just once.
“Now, I think he knows where he’s going to get his shots off of guys,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “They’re looking for him out of the crowd that they draw, and he’s ready to let it go. We want quick decisions, and he does that when he’s shooting the ball.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.