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Basketball

Grant Williams Checks All the Right Boxes For the Mavericks

He does what Dallas needs, he fits Luka Doncic, there may be more upside ahead, and he'll do all of it at a great price. What's not to like?
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The 24-year-old forward was a free-agency coup for Dallas. Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports.

The silver lining of catastrophic failure, of hitting rock bottom, is that somewhere buried deep in the disappointment is the opportunity for improvement. When you fail doing things one way, you know there is a chance to succeed by doing them another way. Last season the Mavericks authored one of the most disappointing campaigns in recent league history, becoming only the third team in the last 23 years to miss the playoffs with an All-NBA first-team player on their roster. In some ways, what the Mavs did last season is harder than winning a championship, or at least more unlikely. All those years of roster mismanagement finally culminated in a fiery crash. We overuse the word “epic,” but making the Western Conference finals one season and then tanking the end of the next certainly qualifies for such usage.

I have a 4-year-old daughter, so I’ve seen the Frozen movies more times than the number of days humans have existed in their current form. There is a song in Frozen II—a superior film to the first offering, in my opinion—called “The Next Right Thing.” It’s a banger, and the message sounds like it was written by a coach. Whatever happened before, just focus on doing the next right thing. That’s exactly how I would characterize this Mavericks offseason. 

And the most impactful next right thing the club did this summer was acquire forward Grant Williams in a sign-and-trade with the Boston Celtics. 

On the surface, it would be easy to say that trading for Williams doesn’t represent any sort of sea change, as he’s a somewhat similar player to Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith. The first difference, obviously, is age. Williams is only 24, which puts him in an excellent position to grow while benefiting from the gravitational pull of Luka Doncic. Bullock and Finney-Smith served this team valiantly, but they are what they are at this point. Both started to show the wear and tear of age and heavy minutes last season. Williams comes in at the perfect time in his career to expand his game and take on a bigger role than the one he ultimately was relegated to in Boston, where he was briefly cast out of the Celtics’ playoff rotation before playing a major role in their Eastern Conference finals loss to Miami. I’m not expecting any sort of major transformation, but I expect him to be a better player in two years than he is today.

He’s mostly a catch-and-shoot threat on the offensive end, but that’s not a bad thing for a guy playing the four. Last season Williams shot 43 percent on all catch-and-shoot opportunities, per Second Spectrum, a mark that tied him with Heat guard Tyler Herro. It’s a better one than Tim Hardaway Jr. posted last season, and the volume isn’t as disproportionate as I would’ve expected (469 attempts for Hardaway, 324 for Williams). This isn’t a small-sample-size situation: Williams has proven he can shoot, and can shoot in the very situations that will be created for him in Dallas. He has hit more than 43 percent of his corner 3s in each of the last three seasons. 

He wasn’t used as a roll man much in Boston, so it’s tough to predict if there is potential there. It is worth noting, though, that just about every big who has played with Doncic has posted ridiculous pick-and-roll efficiency numbers. I think I include this in almost every column I write, and I’m not going to stop now: as a passer, Doncic creates the best shots for his teammates of anyone in the league. Since he entered the NBA, he leads the league in “shot quality” created by a wide margin (per Second Spectrum). If Williams simply maintains his efficiency from beyond the arc, and there’s no reason to think he won’t, he’ll be a nice fit. If playing with Doncic and Kyrie Irving helps him expand his offensive game, that’s a bonus. Williams lined up with two great players in Boston in Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown. Their games, however, are not in the same category as the Mavericks’ backcourt in terms of creating advantageous situations for teammates.

But the bulk of the value Williams brings to Dallas is on the defensive end. The Mavs finished 25th in defensive rating last year. The previous season, they finished seventh. (They slid to 14th after trading Kristaps Porzingis in February 2022, but that’s still a respectable mark.) Coach Jason Kidd has shown that with at least semi-competent defensive players, he can put together a good defensive team. Dallas has long relied far too heavily on Maxi Kleber to be its versatile defensive savior. The task for the front office will be avoiding a scenario where Williams simply turns into Kleber, where he’s the only player on the roster capable of bodying an opposing star while also being quick enough to switch and guard multiple positions. If the Mavs’ draft process this year was any indication, they understand this. It’s always going to be a challenge to build a respectable defense with Doncic and Irving deservedly receiving the bulk of the team’s minutes and money. Targeting and acquiring a young player like Williams is an explicit acknowledgment of this dynamic. 

I don’t want to delve too much into armchair psychology here, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which Doncic is yelling in frustration at Williams the way he did at Christian Wood last year. We can certainly debate the way Wood was deployed, given the limited options the team had. But I don’t know anyone who watched Wood play and thought, “The thing about this guy is, he just plays really hard. Seems really locked in.” There most certainly are situations where you don’t fully know what a player is about and how his personality functions in a team setting until you watch him every game. But every concern about Wood’s past issues played out during his season in Dallas. I would expect the opposite to happen with Williams.

There is tremendous value to a player who can shoot 40 percent from deep, defend multiple positions, and provide a steady presence in the locker room. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually becomes the “vocal leader” of this team. Not every day you see 24-year-olds serving on the NBPA’s executive committee. Plus, listen to the man talk.) 

Speaking of value, Williams’ contract is a bargain. With the NBA’s projected salary-cap escalations, Williams could become on one of the more team-friendly deals in the league in short order. Conversely, if he simply remains the same player he is now, the deal wouldn’t be considered a bust. It’s a rare high-floor, high-ceiling contract and acquisition.

It’s possible the addition of Williams doesn’t even make Dallas a playoff team next season. That would obviously be a huge disappointment, but the competition in the Western Conference is stout. Still, at this stage, all we can evaluate is the process, and this offseason, the process has made sense. Every move should be evaluated through the lens of “does this fit with Luka Doncic.” And in every aspect, trading for Grant Williams checks that box.

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Jake Kemp

Jake Kemp

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Jake Kemp covers the Cowboys and Mavericks for StrongSide. He is a lifelong Dallas sports fan who previously worked for…

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