Robert Williams prevailed as a starter at the Boston Celtics and previously made Daniel Theis dispensable. Is the 23-year-old ready for the bigger role?
If you are looking for positive storylines with the proud Celtics this season, you don’t have a huge selection. Boston is having a mixed season having reached the Conference Finals in three of the past four years. The defense has collapsed compared to previous years, the dependence on the two All-Stars is too great, Kemba Walker is not always the same.
Only twice were more than two games won in a row during the season. It was therefore not surprising that the Celtics did not arrange the really big deals for the trade deadline. The move that would have made this team a legitimate contender was not on the table – the problems were too diverse for that. Instead, “only” Evan Fournier came from Orlando and Daniel Theis was even a previously essential part of the team.
Theis was sold off mainly for financial reasons; this trade prevented Boston from drifting into the luxury tax area with Fournier. The deal also had a side effect that many Celtics fans had longed for: It made Robert Williams a starter. Which would have ended up with a positive storyline.
Brad Stevens kept Robert Williams on a short leash
Williams has gradually earned Brad Stevens’ trust. Even as a rookie, the number 27 pick from 2018 sometimes impressed with his athleticism, but had to grow up too. He earned the nickname “Time Lord” because, as a rookie, he missed the press conference at which he was supposed to be introduced.
In addition, Williams has been in a full front court in Boston since arriving. In his rookie year, Aron Baynes, Al Horford and Theis were “in the way”, in year two most of the center minutes went to Theis and Enes Kanter, although Williams was injured for a longer period of time. In the current season he was again center No. 3 behind Theis and Tristan Thompson.
Nevertheless, Williams had the greatest impact almost from the start, although he was only used around 16 minutes per game in the first few months of the season. Especially offensively, the 23-year-old brought dynamism and athleticism into play that the competition lacked. Stevens, however, kept him on a short leash, and if he made a mistake, he flew off the court faster than his more experienced teammates.
Due to several injuries in his past, the Celtics also deliberately reduced his minutes to slowly build him up: “There are differences. Any player can play 20 minutes per game, but playing the way they play is everything else for 20 minutes per game than easy, “said GM Danny Ainge in mid-March Toucher & Rich. But a lot has changed since then.
Finally place on the five
Thompson dropped out from mid-March and didn’t return until this week, Theis was traded to Chicago on March 25th. As a result, the way was cleared for Williams, who started on March 26th for the first time this season and will probably not give up the place from now on. Williams finally seems ready to step into the spotlight.
Of his seven starts so far, the Celtics have won five, which can be considered a hot streak in this inconsistent season. The Big Man has his share in this: Basically, he rarely misses (72.2 percent throw rate), hardly any praise is out of reach for him due to his incredibly long arms. Against Houston, for example, he scored 20 points without a single miss, especially near the basket there is a constant risk of explosion.
Williams isn’t a garbage collector though – he’s a very active part of the offense. He puts up many screens, rolls dynamically and also acts as a register himself. Over his first five starts, he managed 23 assists with only three ball losses. Some things come about through simple handouts, but for a long time Williams has been shaking passports out of his sleeve that are otherwise rarely seen by big men.
Robert Williams inspires as a passer
“He’s an underrated passer. I think that’s one of his best skills,” said Jayson Tatum recently, and Stevens said that Williams is getting better and better at reading the game. “You have to see the situation correctly. Sometimes the way to the ring is clear, sometimes the defense collapses and then a good big man, for example, plays a kick-out into the corner,” explained the coach.
Williams has already shown some of these passes and thus helps that the offense runs more smoothly when he is on the court. With Williams as a starter, the Celtics recorded loudly nba.com/stats a strong offensive rating of 115.4. And he is also making progress defensively, although his impact here is not as great as on the offensive.
“Rob has been our best defensive center so far this year. I think everyone knows that,” Ainge said after the Theis trade, but that was primarily recorded under “Our boy’s trust”. Theis was the more constant defender, especially in the team and in rotations. Williams, however, also brings a large portion of upside here with him.
Robert Williams is still nervous
He is quick on his feet, has the long arms and the athleticism that already make him one of the better shot blockers in the league. He still has a lot to learn – Joel Embiid, for example, gave him fouls every second on Wednesday night. But that’s to be expected: “He still has some work to do,” said Stevens. “But it just keeps getting better and it will continue like this.”
Williams himself also admitted that he is still sometimes nervous on the court. “The point is that I don’t want to make mistakes myself. That occupies me then. I think that I still have a big leap ahead of me if I can manage to calm down a little,” said Williams.
The best way to do this: match practice. And that’s what the Big Man should finally be able to do for the rest of the season – for the first time in his career. Its development could even lead to the difficult Celtics season coming to a more conciliatory end.
Robert Williams’ NBA stats
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