Commentary

A new point of emphasis

Williams comes up big by embracing a small but key role with the Celtics

Updated: April 4, 2013, 9:33 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Looking for Terrence Williams? Just follow the sound of the bouncing basketball.

When the Boston Celtics asked Williams to commit himself to being a pure point guard, it spurred the 25-year-old former lottery pick to put increased emphasis on ballhandling. And, with shades of Pistol Pete Maravich, Williams began dribbling a basketball just about everywhere he went.

In the locker room, on the team plane, through the team hotel (pity the poor traveler with the suite below Williams when he gets a late-night urge to work on his handle).

In buying into the idea of being a point guard, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Williams -- the 11th pick of the Brooklyn Nets in the 2009 draft who is playing for his fourth team in four NBA seasons -- is giving himself a chance to carve out a small role with a playoff-bound team in dire need of ballhandling.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Williams
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty ImagesOver the past seven games, Williams is averaging 6 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2 assists over 18.3 minutes per contest -- plus a low turnover ratio.

"I never really had a style of play until I came here," said Williams. "Then I got defined in a role. I definitely accept my role here of finding guys and being aggressive at certain times when I need to."

Given a bump in playing time recently, Williams has found a comfortable balance between being a distributor and attacking the basket. The result? Over the past seven games, Williams is averaging 6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2 assists over 18.3 minutes per contest.

Most impressive is Williams' assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5) during that span. Even while often serving as the top second-unit ball handler, Williams takes care of the ball and owns a turnover ratio (turnovers per 100 possessions) of 7.5 in those seven games (for means of comparison, Rajon Rondo's turnover ratio was 13.78 before his season-ending injury).

As Williams finds himself developing as a second-unit quarterback, the biggest plus, perhaps, is that he's not a liability. It's part of what could open the door for a depth role in Boston's playoff rotation (potentially splitting limited minutes with Jordan Crawford).

Asked if Williams could be in that playoff mix, Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted, "I tell [Boston's midseason acquisitions] every day, it's who we feel we can trust out there, that's not going to turn the ball over, that's going to get back on defense, that's not going to lose their composure in the middle of a game, and we'll find that out."

The Celtics trust Williams with the ball in his hands. He's making smart decisions on the offensive end and using his size to create mismatches. Now it's just a matter of progressing on defense.

Williams is still learning Boston's help defense system. With the size of a typical swingman, he's able to muscle through screens in the pick-and-roll and he has actually thrived in isolation as smaller guards settle for trying to shoot over him.

But Williams has a propensity to ball watch and sometimes struggles to recover to his man. With Boston mixing in some zone with its second unit, Williams sometimes gets caught out of position and has been burnt against spot-up shooting. According to Synergy Sports data, Williams' opponents are averaging 0.86 points per play overall, ranking him in the 53rd percentile among all league players. Opponents are shooting 40.4 percent against him (though that number plummets to 20 percent in isolation; only negated by 47.1 percent in spot-up situations).

Williams I never really had a style of play until I came here. Then I got defined in a role. I definitely accept my role here of finding guys and being aggressive at certain times when I need to.

-- Terrence Williams

Still, there's a lot for Boston to like in what we've seen from Williams lately. That includes how he has been able to push the ball hard and create easy scoring chances in transition when defenders don't step up to stop the ball.

"All we've asked him to do is, every time [Williams gets] it, be a locomotive. Literally," explained Rivers. "Be a locomotive: Run straight down the middle of the floor as fast as you can, and if someone gets in your way then that means someone else will be open. And he did it twice [on Friday night against Atlanta] and went coast-to-coast with dunks. When you look at his body, there's not a lot of guys that want to get in front of that."

When the Celtics first elected to sign him for the remainder of the season (after an initial 10-day contract), Williams recalled his surprise last summer when he saw his name listed as the best available point guard on a whiteboard in Danny Ainge's office.

Williams tried to reason with Ainge that he had made a mistake. After all, Williams explained, he was a 2-guard.

The Celtics told him then, and reiterated again when they signed him in February (after a stint in the Chinese Basketball Association), that he was a point guard. And by directing him to that role, they've started to tap into the potential that no NBA team has quite been able to harness.

"I've been hard on the [point guard] role with him every day," said Rivers. "I tell him exactly who he is, exactly what he should do, and maybe we're doing a better job of defining the role [than past teams]."

Added Rivers: "[Williams] enjoys that, which is nice. He wants to be told exactly [what to do] and then go out and play in that framework. So maybe that's a good thing."

Williams has no problem trying different things. A Seattle-area native, he joked before Thursday's practice about what drew him to play his college ball at Louisville.

"They told me [Kentucky] was the Bluegrass State," said Williams. "I actually wanted to see if there was blue grass. I was disappointed because there was no blue grass. I just tried to get out and be on my own."

His professional basketball journey has taken him from New Jersey to Springfield to Houston to Sacramento to Guangdong and, finally, to Boston. Now he's ready to settle down for a bit.

And that's why he dribbles everywhere he goes. He's aware that being a point guard is his ticket to sticking with the Celtics, maybe even beyond this season (the team inked him to a deal that will allow Boston to bring him back on minimum money next season).

During Wednesday's win over the Detroit Pistons, Williams dislocated his right pinkie finger while deflecting an entry pass. He stayed in the game, popped the finger back into place, got some halftime X-rays, and toughed out the rest of the night with the aid of some tape.

See, all that left-handed dribbling already paid off. Williams doesn't expect to let the injury affect him moving forward.

"You've got to cut my hand off for me to actually say I'm not going to play basketball," said Williams. "If I've got to tape my whole finger with all the electric tape you can find, I'm still going to try to play. It's not going to change anything. It's not like I need to shoot 15 shots. I can pass still with two hands or my left hand."

Not even a bum pinkie can stop him from grasping his role in Boston.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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