Miami Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo is off to a flying start against the Boston Celtics, averaging 19.5 points (on 53.6 percent shooting), 8.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 38.9 minutes over two games.
Adebayo’s strong play has helped Miami get off to a 2-0 start, leaving the Celtics in a hole and looking for a way to get out of it. One way for Boston to get back into the series has to be finding a way to slow Adebayo’s output down, perhaps by using a stronger defensive-minded player to guard him.
Someone like first-year forward Grant Williams.
Williams and Adebayo have faced off head-to-head a handful of times in the regular season and playoffs, but the two young players have a history that goes farther than that.
Williams’ Providence Day defeated Adebayo’s High Point for the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A boys’ basketball title in 2016. Williams (who ranked outside the consensus Top 200 in his class) guarded top-ten recruit Adebayo and held the Kentucky-commit scoreless during the first half.
The players faced off again during their freshman seasons in the SEC back in January 2017. Kentucky came into the match the second-highest rated team in the nation, per KenPom, while Tennessee was outside the Top 50. But the Volunteers came out on top behind Williams’ four blocks and three steals.
Williams guarded the 2020 NBA All-Star for approximately eight possessions in the regular season, per NBA.com, and the Miami center recorded just one field goal attempt. He has also guarded Adebayo for around seven possessions in the postseason and the Heat big man has not recorded a field goal attempt in that time.
Golden State Warriors forward and former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green thinks Stevens needs to trust their rookie against Adebayo even though Williams measured at just 6-5.75” without shoes at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. Boston has the size to make up for it with Marcus Smart (6-foot-3), Jaylen Brown (6-foot-7) and Jayson Tatum (6-foot-8) flanking him.
This has actually been a recipe for success in the past as Williams has performed well as a center in the NBA. According to Cleaning the Glass, including the playoffs, Boston has used Williams as their center for 730 possessions and have outscored opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions during such opportunities. Watch the way he slows the pick-and-roll against Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis.
The Celtics have allowed 103.8 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile) when Williams played the five, per Cleaning the Glass. Opponents shot just 34.2 percent (96th percentile) from midrange and 31.6 percent (93rd percentile) from 3-point range during these minutes.
Overall, Boston’s defense forced a turnover on 16.6 percent of possessions (90th percentile) with Williams as their big man. Compare that to 14.0 percent (39th percentile) with Kanter playing the position and you can see the stark difference.
But it has been more than helpful to just his team as he has been more productive when he has not shared the floor with a traditional big man.
Williams played 561 minutes without either Theis or Kanter during the regular season, via RotoGrinders, and averaged 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per 36 minutes. However, he played 267 minutes alongside Kanter and averaged just 4.4 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and 0.5 steals per 36.
It may not be a foolproof plan and Adebayo has proven over the course of the year that he’s talented enough to produce against anyone, but using the defensive-minded Williams to guard the Heat big man as Green suggested could be one way for Boston to fight their way back into the series.