What to make of Grant Williams’ surprise DNP in Celtics-Cavs matchup?

Forsberg: Making Sense of Grant Williams’ surprise DNP vs. Cavs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Grant Williams recorded his first DNP in almost two years during Wednesday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, a surprise demotion for a player who had played much of the bench for the past two seasons.

Was this an isolated case or an indication of a diminishing role for a fourth-year forward who has bet on entering a contract year?

Head coach Joe Mazzulla’s first post-game response to a query about Williams DNP was a single-word response: “Matchups.”

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Not wanting to play with an undersized big against Cleveland’s scary frontline makes superficial sense, but reviewing last-meet tracking data (the only game Williams played against the Cavaliers after being suspended for the first game) shows that Cleveland it was only 4 of 12 shoot against him.

Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley were a 2-of-3 combo shooting for just four points that game. Williams was one of the few players to find success with Donovan Mitchell. The Celtics were plus-4 in Williams’ bench-high 31 minutes, 37 seconds of action that night.

Pressed on the subject, Mazzulla noted that he wanted more rim protection. The Celtics went with Sam Hauser and Mike Muscala as early bench bigs and the Cavaliers attempted to capitalize on those matchups, albeit with limited success as Muscala kept opponents to seven points, particularly in 3-of-11 shooting, according to NBA tracking .

Mazzulla also noted that offensive distance was another reason for Williams’ DNP. That’s an odd proposition considering Williams has been shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc this season. A Muscala/Hauser lineup featuring Jayson Tatum, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White was a minus-4 over 4:32. The Celtics shot 1 of 8 from the 3-point line with this group on the ground. A variation of this formation – with Robert Williams III instead of White – was more successful later in the game.

So what’s really going on here? We believe there are two things at play.

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First, the addition of Muscala at the close, along with the reappearance of Hauser, has crowded Boston’s frontcourt options, and Mazzulla is likely yearning to test different looks ahead of the postseason. The Celtics need to see if Muscala can hold their own against playoff-caliber opponents and the Cavaliers’ visit on Wednesday was a test of quality.

Second, Williams has been in a slump for more than a month and the DNP could be a solid reminder that he needs to get back to influencing the game in his usual ways.

Williams didn’t have a good February. The Celtics had a team-best net rating of plus15.2 in his 261 minutes off the court, and that number dipped to a meager plus of 0.5 in his 277 minutes on the ground. Williams averaged 6.1 points while shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor and 32.5 percent over the 3-point arc in performances on Feb. He played just 6-11 in Boston’s first game from the break against the Pacers, another front-court-sized team.

To Williams’ credit, he was a good teammate despite his evaporated role on Wednesday night. He regularly celebrated the successes of his teammates, including Hauser.

We’ve seen repeated instances like this in the past where a player takes a somewhat rude demotion and then plays the next game for more than 30 minutes to remind everyone how impactful they can be. Williams can smother that history by excelling at his next opportunity.

If we step back, the bigger story here could simply be that Williams is struggling to add value given his underwhelming play of late. Williams had an opportunity to extend pre-season with the Celtics but opted for a bigger payday.

However, limited free agency is tricky business, and even prior to his recent struggles, pinpointing teams willing to shell out more than $15 million on an undersized bank has been difficult.

The good news for Williams is that there are still plenty of opportunities to restore its value. Williams was fantastic during Boston’s playoff run last season, from defending the likes of Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the early rounds to his great shooting performance in Game 7 against the Bucks.

Williams can remind teams why he’s worth more as a midfielder. If he’s struggling to find his game, he risks having to play next year with a $4.3 million qualifying offer and being forced to back on himself again in a much higher-pressure contract year.

For now, Williams needs to focus on finding success again from his corner office and being an impact defender. Playtime and money will settle down from there.

https://sports.yahoo.com/grant-williams-surprising-dnp-celtics-173000068.html?src=rss What to make of Grant Williams’ surprise DNP in Celtics-Cavs matchup?


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