The Dallas Mavericks went into last offseason seeking a little more defense, toughness, and rebounding, without sacrificing perimeter shooting. They were able to find it in Grant Williams. Without the cap space to sign Williams outright, the Mavericks were able to swing a three-way trade with the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs. Williams signed a four-year, $54 million deal with the Celtics and was then shipped to the Mavericks in exchange for a bundle of second round picks. The Spurs received Reggie Bullock and a 2030 pick swap with Dallas.
Williams is the perfect role player for a team with playoff aspirations and a proven postseason performer. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but Dallas won’t ask him to be a huge cog in the offense. Williams will only need to hit open shots, rebound, and play tough defense. Last season, he averaged 8.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game, all career highs. He shot 39.5 percent from behind the arc, down a bit from his career-high 41 percent in 2021-22.
Williams took a slight step back last season—is that indicative of a downward turn? He wouldn’t be the first player to shine in a playoff run or two, and then fall off once signing a big contract. But more than likely Williams’ drop in playing time and numbers is linked to new coach Joe Mazzulla. For whatever reason, Williams just didn’t fit into Mazzulla’s rotation, probably due to mistakes on a Boston offense that too often stagnated due to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s limited playmaking ability.
The Mavericks have no need for extra offense. With Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, they’ll have no problem generating buckets. They need Williams to do everything else and hit the open shots their electric backcourt will surely produce.
Best Case Scenario
If all goes right, Williams focuses his energy on being a defensive menace as a big forward, grabs every rebound that’s remotely near him, and hits the open 3-pointers Doncic and Irving will produce. He does this all season and continues through the postseason. In last season’s playoffs, Williams shot 45 percent from deep, albeit on just 2.7 attempts per game.
Again, his numbers won’t jump off the page, but what he’ll need to do doesn’t show up in box scores. In a reduced role in last year’s postseason, Williams only averaged 5.1 points per game, but his minutes were reduced to less than 20 minutes per game. When he was a key part of the Boston Celtics’ Finals run in 2022, Williams put up 8.6 points per game and shot 39 percent on 3-pointers.
Worst Case Scenario
There’s a possibility Williams’ shot continues to decline, and with that decline, he loses focus on defense. If he’s not a lights out shooter on open 3-pointers, and doesn’t contribute on defense, there’s not much of a role for Williams. 61 percent of his shots last season were 3-pointers. Former Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock was known for only shooting 3-pointers, as nearly 85 percent of his shots came from behind the arc. Williams won’t approach a shot diet that homogenous, but expect that to shoot up a bit, probably as high as 70 percent. If he’s not hitting those, the Mavericks will be playing 4-on-5 on offense.
Besides the concentration on defense, Williams should become one of Doncic and Irving’s preferred outlets on the perimeter when defenses collapse on them. A Williams 3-pointer should feel like a grim conclusion to opposing defenses.
Williams shot 42 percent on corner threes last year, a significant drop from the nearly 47 percent he shot the previous season. The Mavericks will want to see that number improve. Williams only shot 41 percent on wide open threes, which the NBA defines as an attempt with defenders six feet or more away. He’ll definitely get better looks with Doncic and Irving distributing shots and drawing all the defense’s attention, so that number should go up as well.
The Mavericks made a good acquisition bringing Williams to Dallas. There’s only so much improvement they can make on offense before approaching diminishing returns. Williams’ toughness and defense are what they were lacking last season, and to add it for the cost of a role players’ salary and a pick swap is a great deal.