Grant Williams has defied the odds his entire basketball career. Why should that stop now?
Williams is nothing short of a legend in Knoxville. The former six-foot-five, three-star power forward recruit turned into a back to back SEC player of the year. He was the main catalyst in Tennessee’s return to the national stage in college basketball.
Grant isn’t your typical star athlete, either. A self-proclaimed nerd, Williams was a nationally ranked chess player before his basketball stardom. He could be constantly seen playing the board game ‘Settlers of Catan’ on the team plane before games. His mother, who works for NASA, calls him a renaissance man.
Whatever you want to call him, he’s just a dude that you want on your side.
As a recruit
Williams was a three-star prospect out of Charlotte, North Carolina. He was the 191st rated prospect in the 2016 class — the 47th ranked power forward. Williams chose Tennessee over Harvard and Yale, which tells you a little bit about his academics.
Grant stepped onto the campus listed at 6-5, admittedly ‘chunky’ and frankly — lazy, according to Rick Barnes. Williams was 260 pounds when he signed with Tennessee, but Barnes saw the potential, he just knew he had to get him in shape. That didn’t take very long — and the lazy label didn’t last very long, either.
Tennessee career overview
He exploded onto the scene as a relative unknown in the 2016-17 season, scoring 25+ points on three separate occasions as a freshman. He ended up averaging 12.6 points and nearly six rebounds in his first season, providing Tennessee with a legitimate building block for the future.
Over the next two seasons, Williams became one of the best players in the country, serving as Tennessee’s primary offensive option. In his junior season, Grant averaged 18.8 points per game on a roster that featured plenty of NBA talent. Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Williams formed a dominant trio which led Tennessee to a 31-6 record overall, landing them at the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll for four weeks.
Williams made a career off of making tough shots in the paint. Tennessee’s offense in 2017-18 essentially consisted of getting the ball to Grant and getting the hell out of the way. And it worked for the most part.
Things changed during his junior year after the emergence of Schofield and Bone. It was a more balanced attack for the Vols, which allowed Williams options when the opposing team doubled and tripled him down low. This put an emphasis on Grant’s passing and decision-making, which is where he showed the most improvement last season.
Even with more consistent options around him, Williams averaged nearly 19 points per game in 2018-19, which led the SEC. Williams was a finalist for the national player of the year award, standing alongside of Ja Morant, Rui Hachimura and Zion Williamson.
He declared for the draft shortly after the season ended and opted to keep his name in after receiving feedback during the NBA Combine week.
NBA Combine Results
Height with shoes: 6’7”
Standing vertical: 26 inches
Max vertical: 31.5 inches
Shuttle run: 3.27 seconds
Lane agility: 10.83 seconds
Three quarter court sprint: 3.33 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
- Relentless low-post scorer who simply finds a way to get things done. Has a variety of post moves and shows an incredible ability to score through contact.
- Has a super consistent mid-range jumper.
- Developed an outside game in during junior season, hitting 32 percent of his three-point attempts.
- Lived at the foul line during final season (260 attempts ranked 11th in the NCAA). Shot 81 percent from the free throw stripe.
- Grew into an outstanding passer, averaging 3.2 assists per game during 2018-19 season.
- Faced constant double teams and routinely made the correct pass out of those situations.
- Became a leader at Tennessee early on in his career. Widely praised for his character and intelligence.
- Still just 20 years old after three years of college basketball.
- 6-7 frame could limit his NBA potential.
- Struggled at times with long defenders in the post.
- Inconsistent at times on the boards, which was a constant topic for Rick Barnes.
- Will need to prove he can defend on the perimeter.
- Fouled out of four games in 2018-19.
The NBA’s view on Grant Williams will be fascinating. There’s no denying his production and ability around the rim, but how much will his size hold him back? That’s about the only question anyone has on Williams, although it’s a big one. Luckily for Williams, a lack of size isn’t exactly the death sentence it once was.
Williams is crafty enough that he will be able to operate in the low post in the league. But his game is going to have to expand. His mid-range presence will likely have to be used more often, while his outside shot will have to continue to trend upwards. He’s going to have to improve as a ball-handler, which Barnes emphasized last year as he was allowed to run a little point from time to time.
He’s talked about watching NBA guys like P.J. Tucker in the past. He know’s he’s going to be tasked with playing against much bigger guys in the post, so Grant will have to figure out how to win in those situations. Williams is a natural four, but could handle minutes at the center spot or even on the wing. That versatility is a big plus for him.
Williams is going to continue to be limited by his size and lack of elite athleticism, which is why he’s a projected late first round pick. However, Grant is probably going to make one team really happy with the abundance of skills that he brings to the table. There’s no reason he can’t be productive off the bench immediately in his rookie season. He’s simply too skilled on the offensive end to not carve out a significant role at the next level.