NEW YORK — There was one stretch Saturday when Grant Williams swished five consecutive 3-pointers with ease, not even a second thought.
If only the games were so easy. Williams, who celebrated his 21st birthday Saturday, has missed all 21 of his 3-point attempts this season. The first-round pick has worked himself into the Celtics’ rotation, playing spot minutes as a defensive spark.
But he’d like to contribute offensively.
He is shooting 24.5 percent from the field, and he’s missing layups that he would have scored easily at the University of Tennessee. But this isn’t Tennessee, and Williams is struggling through a rookie slump.
“Still shooting it, that’s the big thing,” Williams said of his approach. “You can’t really worry about the misses or you won’t be able to make the next one. I’ll take another one and it will go on. That’s my thoughts on it and that’s the team’s thoughts on it, or they would tell me not to shoot.”
Williams shot 47 percent from the field in summer league, and the Celtics encouraged him to shoot freely. But since Williams turned in his best game as a pro in a Nov. 1 win against the New York Knicks, he has missed 23 of his past 27 shots, and his last made basket was Nov. 20 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Teammate Marcus Smart went through similar shooting struggles early in his career and has served as a mentor for Williams. The philosophy is to concentrate on defense and rebounding, and the scoring will happen.
“He’s been one of those guys who’s had my back the whole time because he sees me as his ‘Mini Me,’ ” Williams said. “The previous five years, he’s been that offensive guy, the glue guy, and not necessarily the scorer that he is now. You can’t rush it. It’s a process. It’s a long season, 82 games and it all about competing and getting these wins.”
Fellow rookie Carsen Edwards was a prolific scorer at Purdue, scoring more than 40 points twice in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but he’s struggled from the field also, shooting 31.5 percent in his limited role.
Scoring was never an issue for Edwards, but now that he is seeking offensively comfortability, he is trying to make an impact defensively.
In college, Edwards would attack the rim, draw contact, and get foul calls. But he’s attempted just 11 free throws through 16 games and just five in November.
“I’m not expecting to get any calls,” he said. “I’m just going in and trying to be aggressive and make the right play. But that was something I was used to in college, feeling like the contact I get, I’m going to get all. I don’t try to expect calls regardless.”
Edwards said he realizes that he’ll stay on the floor by defending and making the right play. In Friday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, he chased a loose ball out of bounds near the end of the third quarter, but his flip back went right to Taurean Prince, who scored a layup after the Celtics had gotten a defensive stop.
It was an effort play that went wrong, but Edwards is trying to make an impact even when he’s not scoring.
“We have so many guys on this team who can score the ball, and I’m just trying to find my offensive rhythm,” he said. “But I can always control how I can defend and the impact I can make on the defensive end, so I try to be as consistent as possible and be trusted on that end.”
Smart said after Friday’s game that he had had enough questions about Kyrie Irving and his stint with the Celtics. Jaylen Brown did not speak to reporters after that game, but was quite frank about his feelings on last season and the desire to move forward.
“I’ve been over it,” Brown said. “I cut my hair, I cut my care. So it wasn’t a game that was on my calendar.”
The Celtics don’t play the Nets again until March 3 at TD Garden. Irving has missed both meetings with Boston, and was expected to miss Sunday’s home matchup with the Miami Heat.
On the mend
Gordon Hayward was working out individually during the team’s practice and is shooting without a splint on his surgically repaired left hand. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Hayward would travel with the team until he is ready to return, which could be late December. He fractured his left hand Nov. 9 in San Antonio.