As they demonstrated in the Celtics' 113-88 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, Terrence Williams and Jordan Crawford have different games -- Williams is a more complete player while Crawford is a gunning scorer -- but their circumstances with the Celtics aren't so far apart.
They came to Boston as low-risk, high-reward investments. Williams is on a 10-day contract after finishing a season in China, while the Celtics only had to give up an injured Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins for Crawford's services in a trade on Thursday. Their physical abilities have never been put into question -- heck, Crawford's dunked on LeBron James before -- but they both join the Celtics having, at one point or another, battled reputations of immaturity and selfishness.
As such, the immediate impact the Celtics could have on Williams and Crawford could be greater than those they'll have on their new club. Boston's hoping that, in time, the benefits will balance each other out.
After being selected 11th overall in the 2009 draft by the New Jersey Nets, Williams showed flashes of the talent that made him a lottery pick, but ultimately didn't stick, and bounced around to several other destinations -- Houston, Sacramento, Detroit -- before heading off to play in the Chinese Basketball Association last year. One of the first things Williams acknowledged when he spoke with Boston reporters was how quickly his mindset changed when he got to China. It was an eye-opening experience for the Louisville product, who noted that he maybe didn't take his job as a professional player seriously enough when he first entered the NBA.
"I think that's what made everything go downhill -- not being a professional," Williams said prior to Boston's 113-99 loss to the Lakers Wednesday. "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."
For Williams, the Celtics are something of a reset button; a second chance to wade into the NBA waters and prove he can stay afloat with the rest. That Boston is also a solid fit for Williams' apparent strengths is something of a lifebuoy. At 6-foot-6, Williams doesn't have the build of a typical point guard, but what's shined through most in his first two games is his play making ability. Against the Lakers he found open teammates with several sleek passes, and, in Friday's win over Phoenix, his passing was decisive and on-point, almost seeming premeditated at times, given how quickly the ball left his hands.
"I just try to find people," Williams said after finishing with four assists on Friday. "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."
The good news for Williams is that he appears to get it, plain and simple. He understands he let his first opportunity flounder, but he seems fully braced to take this latest chance and run with it. And if his ability to impact the Celtics' offense the way he did Friday night is a sign of things to come, it's not a stretch to imagine Boston signing him for the rest of the season.
Crawford, meanwhile, is more of a question mark. The Wizards were clearly eager to move him after he fell out of their rotation and reports out of Washington suggested the 24-year old didn't keep a sense of professionalism as his minutes dwindled.
What needs to be considered with Crawford is the situation he's been in for nearly his entire career. Traded from Atlanta to Washington during his rookie year, Crawford spent approximately two full seasons on Wizards teams that couldn't even sniff the .500 mark, let alone the playoffs. On top of the teams being poorly constructed in general, many of Crawford's teammates were inexperienced (John Wall, Nick Young, Yi Jianlian, etc.), past their primes and ineffective (Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, Mike Bibby), or a bit immature themselves (Andray Blatche).
This isn't to say Crawford shouldn't be held accountable for the reputation that's been bestowed upon him, but he's never played for an organization like the Celtics before. In Boston he'll have Doc Rivers, a structured setting, and hall-of-fame teammates. Whereas his immaturity in the past might not have been handled as strictly as it could have been, there'll be no place for it in the Celtics' locker room. It won't be adjustment by design so much as it'll be adjustment by necessity.
The structure Boston presents -- in personnel, in its proven system, in its history -- might be the most important thing for Crawford, whose wealth of confidence has reportedly rubbed some people the wrong way in the past. The C's are hoping they can harness that confidence and mold Crawford into a quality role player. As much as they've talked about him serving as the "wild card" off the bench, they'll be much more satisfied if Crawford can better control his abilities, take better shots, and become a more efficient offensive player in general. While Friday's debut wasn't the most efficient of evenings, Crawford still had a solid start to his Boston career by posting 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting in 17 minutes.
"My confidence is what got me here, it allows me when I'm struggling to still believe in myself," Crawford said before Friday's win. "And when I'm playing good, to do things to help your team win. My confidence, just in an overall sense, it just helps me get through things."
Not only will Crawford have to fall in line under the watchful gazes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (who he's reportedly already had a run-in with in a past summer league -- an incident he downplayed on Friday), but he'll be able to blend in to Boston's existing guard core of Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, and Jason Terry. Perhaps going up against the defensive pressure of Bradley and Lee in practice will further instill a bit of humility in Crawford's game.
And then there's Williams, who might be one of the best voices for Crawford to have around. Williams' time in Boston could very easily be shorter than Crawford's, but there's no reason Crawford can't look at Williams' situation and realize that taking the NBA seriously and having the right mindset and a sense of professionalism go a long way towards a productive career.
The pair are playing for the Celtics at the right time. Williams needs a way back into the NBA to jump start his career again, while Crawford was admittedly in need of a change of scenery. And as the Celtics begin to make the right kind of impact on the two of them, they're hoping Williams and Crawford can make an impact on the floor in return.