As the Indiana Pacers prepare for the NBA draft, Tennessee’s Grant Williams looks to be the perfect within the team’s culture.
With the Indiana Pacers’ future wrapped-up so heavily in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, the idea of drafting another big man in the first round seems like mismanagement of assets. Passing up on a talent like Tennessee Volunteers’ forward Grant Williams would feel like an even bigger mistake, however.
Let us begin with what most would typically look at first when studying Williams: his size. You pull up that ESPN profile and see his height listed at 6-foot-7 and frankly, you’re a little disappointed. At power forward, it’s below average.
Even a tick-up to 6-foot-8 would make you feel a lot better. But sometimes, just sometimes, it really doesn’t matter all that much.
Being a tad shorter than the competition (along with just a 6-foot-10 wingspan) puts any player at an automatic disadvantage but the buck doesn’t stop there. Muggsy Bogues didn’t let it. Draymond Green didn’t let it. Neither will Grant Williams.
What Williams lacks in elite physical attributes he makes up for in smarts, force, and sheer will.
Offensively, Williams brings everything to the table from the 3-point line in. As you can see in this clip, he is constantly jockeying for post position and often bullies his way to contested makes at the rim.
As you can see in the video above, Williams is quite keen at turning his hard-earned deep post position into free throws. This season, Williams attempted 260 free throws — 11th in Division I. Williams was just one of three forwards in the top 15 of the list.
Williams put his foul-drawing ability on full display against Vanderbilt in late January, going 23-of-23 at the line. He finished the game with a career-high 43 points.
Last year, one of my favorite draft targets for the Pacers was Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith. He was a fascinating prospect; a 6-foot-4 guard that played more like a center, constantly floating to open spaces, setting off-ball screens, and looking for offensive rebounds at any chance.
I like Williams for the same reasons. Unlike Smith, Williams will actually fill that role as a small-ball 5 in the NBA. Stepping into the league as an unreliable shooter will undoubtedly make Williams’ life more difficult, but his off-ball instincts will help relieve some of that pressure. Floating in and out of the paint, setting screens, constantly trying to carve out space for his teammates and himself. Shots will open up for Williams and his teammates simply because of his activity.
Williams’ activity helps him grab plenty of rebounds as well. Some that he really has no business getting.
It helps that Williams can pass, too. He’s nothing special as a passer, but he doesn’t need to be. There is no doubting his ability to read a defense and react, whether it be challenging a defender at the rim or swinging to an open shooter on the perimeter.
Williams doesn’t have the height, length, and lateral quickness to be a reliable defensive stopper at the rim and on the perimeter each and every play. What he does have, however, is great positioning and timing which allows him to alter shots and keep players in front of him.
He closes out well and forces ball-handlers to either scoot around him or try to fight through him.
Piecing everything together, Williams’ game offers a striking resemblance to none other than Domantas Sabonis. Both are interior big men with excellent IQ, rebounding chops, and solid post presence. Both are somewhat limited defensively but try to position themselves as well as possible to remain competitive.
It’s not the perfect comparison. Williams offers a bit more defensively and gets off the floor easier. Sabonis is the better passer and post scorer.
If Indiana were to be looking for a player to fill Sabonis’s role when he rests, though, Williams may be the best guy for the job — especially when talking about players in the draft.
Whether that is a player the Pacers want to draft is another question. Playing Williams and Sabonis together wouldn’t make much sense, and they’re still in the process of figuring out whether Sabonis and Turner can co-exist. Throwing another imperfect fit into the mix may not be the best way to maximize a first-round pick.
On the other hand, a team like the Pacers can’t afford to draft for need over best player available. For all we know, Sabonis could be moved for a ball-handler or wing this summer or next and his fit with Williams is no longer an issue. Nothing can be taken off the table, especially with the likely crazy NBA offseason ahead.
It’s unfair to say this is a three-player draft, but it’s hard to deny that it’s rather murky once Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett are taken off the board. Grant Williams is a player that could go 10 or slip to 25.
If he is available at 18, though, the Pacers should look at him as a value pick. A smart team would probably take him somewhere between 10 and 15 but teams make mistakes every year.
Even if the fit isn’t perfect, passing up on Williams at 18 may be a mistake the Pacers regret down the line.