The question put to Terrence Williams was how he explains his rather uncanny playmaking skills. He shrugged and suggested that reporters would have to check with a higher power who had blessed him with the sort of court vision not often found in a 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame.
But Williams unknowingly answered the question -- not with his words, but with his actions while he spoke. As Williams began answering the question after Friday's win in Phoenix, fellow Boston Celtics newcomer Jordan Crawford, sitting at a neighboring stall, began shouting across the locker room in an attempt to find out if any of his teammates had any body lotion.
Without breaking stride in his answer, Williams reached down to his side, picked up his shower bag, unzipped it and handed over some moisturizer to Crawford. Yes, even off the court, his vision and assist skills are obvious to observers.
Williams, inked Wednesday to a 10-day contract after spending the start of the 2012-13 season in China, has been phenomenal for Boston in two appearances. He averaged 5.5 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists over 18.5 minutes per game, displaying a diverse skill set that could really aid an injury-depleted Boston team moving forward.
It's clear that, if Williams can maintain this sort of immediate impact on the floor, the Celtics will be ripping up that 10-day deal and locking him up for the remainder of the season. It's a small sample, but from what he's shown in 37 minutes of floor time, it's staggering that he has been out of the league to this point.
"I think it's good it's not my first year in the NBA," said Williams, who was drafted with the 11th overall pick by the Nets in 2009. He has also had stops in Houston and Sacramento before being cut out of camp by the Detroit Pistons at the start of this season.
Williams instead spent the start of the 2012-13 campaign playing in China, which aided his maturation process and strengthened his desire to play professionally stateside again.
"I've always wanted to play basketball in the NBA, and I'm finally getting a chance," said Williams. "I just try to play calm and have confidence."
Williams looks smooth on the court and thrives via his versatility. One play in particular Friday night offered the perfect snapshot of what he's capable of on the floor.
Defending the swingman spot -- something Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted he didn't know Williams could do so competitively before Friday's game -- he crashed the glass for a weakside rebound and pushed the ball the other way. Williams keenly identified that Jermaine O'Neal couldn't keep up with Chris Wilcox as he ran down the middle of the floor, so Williams waited for the guards to commit to their men heading toward the corners before threading a pass to a streaking Wilcox in the lane for an uncontested slam that put Boston out front 28-17 late in the first quarter.
Williams is an excellent rebounder for his size -- hammered home by a career defensive rebound rate of 20.1 percent -- but it's his court vision that you walk away raving about. In two games with Boston, his assist rate is a stellar 26.4 percent, even higher than his career mark of 21.8 percent
Two games is a ridiculously small sample, particularly when one of those games was against the hapless Suns, but the Celtics carry an off-the-charts offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 121.5 when Williams is on the floor -- a defensive rating of 99.1 isn't too shabby either -- and he's making good things happen with Boston's second unit.
In recent seasons, the Celtics have rarely operated with a pure backup point guard behind Rajon Rondo. When Rondo went down last month with a torn ACL, Boston had four combo guards to split up those duties but lost one of them when Leandro Barbosa tore his ACL too.
Now Williams is displaying an ability to take on increased ballhandling responsibilities, even as he sticks his toe into the offensive playbook. That has allowed teammates like Jason Terry to play in their preferred shooting guard spots.
"[Williams] played with us. He was with us for about two weeks over the summer -- just in the gym before the season started," Rivers said. "What we liked, he's a point guard. He's more of a point guard than anything else. And he showed that."
Williams admitted he was a bit crestfallen when the Celtics were unable to offer him a guaranteed spot after his summer tryout. Knowing his odds were long as an invite, he camped with Detroit instead and didn't make the Pistons' final roster. That left Williams overseas in China, where he realized his attitude about the game needed to change.
"That's what made everything go downhill -- not being a professional," Williams said of his inability to find an NBA home early in his career. "I was young, 20-whatever, money, and not really caring. I cared about playing basketball, but I didn't care about putting the work into basketball. Now, if you go to China even for a day, you learn how to be a professional. You want to come back so fast."
Williams is playing like he has no desire to break out his passport again (unless you're talking about a midseason trip to Toronto for an Atlantic Division game). The opportunity to play with the Celtics is bringing out the best in his game, particularly those divine playmaking abilities.
"You've got to ask God. He gave them to me," joked Williams. "No, I just try to find people. I think this is a great, great group of guys for me to play with. They're able to make shots, so I'm just getting them the ball. They're doing the hard part; they're making the shot. It's definitely a dream to play with shooters, and I'm just trying to get them the ball when they're open."
And the veterans like Kevin Garnett and fellow Seattle native Terry have been in Williams' ear, trying to keep him focused on this opportunity. It turns out that Paul Pierce has been a longtime influence as well.
"When I was in high school, as a senior, and I committed to Louisville, Coach [Rick Pitino] sent me a lot of Paul Pierce tapes. I told [Pierce] that every time I played against him, I had to watch Paul Pierce tapes. So just to have him, to have Courtney [Lee], who I played with -- guys who are from the same area as me [Terry, Avery Bradley] -- it's definitely big to help my transition."
Williams' 10-day deal is set to expire March 1. He'll get three more games to prove himself, but he looks pretty comfortable already and might be able to settle in even more soon enough.