Celtics’ Trevion Williams flashes passing ability, positivity at NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS — The first line on Trevion Williams’ scouting report is passing. There are lengthy YouTube videos devoted solely to the big man throwing an “Oooh!”-inducing array of darts in college. From no-look, over-the-head bullets to cross-court whips to bounce passes that seem to hit the cutter in stride every single time.

The second line on the scouting report is joy.

There’s a case to be made that the first two bullets go together. Williams has made it his goal to make others smile and his unselfish passing goes a long way towards helping that on the basketball court. But it goes much deeper.

The Williams family gathered for a draft party last month knowing full well there was no guarantee Trevion would be selected. But when he wasn’t there there were no tears. Instead, when the call came from the Boston Celtics inviting him to the Summer League, the family cheered and celebrated as if his name had been announced during the draft broadcast.

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“We still had a great time, we still cheered, we still celebrated and everything,” said Williams. “We had some good food. You just look at the positives.”

The 21-year-old Williams has always found the silver lining. After losing an uncle to gun violence in his native Chicago in 2015, Williams moved to Detroit in search of a home and school where he felt safer. He flourished there and landed on the radar of Division I colleges despite playing at an arts school and not some prep basketball warehouse.

He needed to slim down at Purdue but made an immediate impact. Despite being first team All-Big Ten as a junior, Williams played a backup role during his senior season with the Boilermakers. All he did was win Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year while earning a second team All-Big Ten nod.

Williams’ path, he acknowledged, is far from conventional.

So it’s only fitting to Williams that nothing has come easy as he starts his pro journey. Those passing skills will go a long way towards stating his case he belongs in the NBA, but it’s the place that shines through.

“It’s something I figured out in college,” said Williams. “I came in as a freshman, I was a quiet guy. People always thought I had attitude. I just really had nothing to say. As I got older, I had to come out of my comfort zone and just put a smile on my face. You’d be surprised what that does for other people around you. So I try to be positive in any way I can.”

Like dancing in the middle of a summer league practice. After hitting a couple of long-range jumpers in post-practice shooting drills with other bigs, Williams spontaneously started grooving on a practice court inside Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV, much to the delight of those around him.

“You’ve got to make your work fun,” said Williams.

Williams knows his scouting report is not all glowing. He’s got a ways to go to develop into a rotation-level player on the defensive end and he plays below the rim, complicating matters as opponents grow in size and strength at the next level. But he rebounds like a 7-footer, handles the ball like a point guard, and sets bone-crunching screens.

And everyone notices his passing.

I was really impressed with not only his willingness to pass, but his vision and ability to see the floor.

Celtics Summer League coach Ben Sullivan on Trevion Williams

“I think from Day 1 since he’s been here, he makes his teammates better by the way he passes,” said teammate Sam Hauser. “I know there were a couple times where he just kind of was looking the other way and threw it to a different guy that he wasn’t looking at, right in the shooting pocket for a three.”

Added Celtics coach Ben Sullivan: “The first thing that stood out is his passing. Such a willing passer, vision, he can see the whole floor with his size, and touch, and feel. I was really impressed with not only his willingness to pass, but his vision and ability to see the floor.”

Williams credits his father for keeping him in guard-style workouts even as he grew up. “My dad always pushed me not to be one-dimensional,” said Williams. So even as he sprouted, he was his high school squad’s primary ball-handler.

Williams knows the Celtics like bigs who can move the ball. The top of the big-man depth chart features Al Horford, who can facilitate the offense from the high post, and Robert Williams III, who is known to morph into the Dime Lord.

“One hundred percent, I definitely think I can fit in,” said Williams. “I like Al’s game a lot. I think we’re very similar in terms of player style. Rob’s more of an athletic big, he’ll get lobs and block shots, whereas Al can facilitate and initiate offense. He can do a lot of things at the top of the key when he has the ball and that’s where I see myself, facilitating at the top of the key.”

He’ll wow this week with the occasional Jokic-like dart in summer league play. But Williams’ goal is to simply prove that he deserves to stick with the Celtics, who have open roster spots and one two-way slot to fill this summer.

“I’m here for a reason,” said Williams. “I think this lifestyle is not for everybody. But I put in the work to make it for me. Just showing people that I belong and that I’m a team-first guy. It’s not always about me. I think the real flex is the way you can impact people around you…

“So just proving that I’m a good teammate, on and off the court, when I’m playing, when I’m on the bench, just being a cheerleader throughout everything.”

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