It's fair to say that when the Boston Celtics signed Shelden Williams this past summer, the decision was met with surprise and a question or two regarding the need for his services if we were indeed planning on re-signing Glen Davis. However, the logic behind it was simple: Based on last year's crippling string of injured big men, it became clear that one can never have enough depth in the front court.
When the Celtics did indeed re-sign Glen Davis a week after signing Williams, it became obvious that Shelden was an insurance policy, considering he was now the sixth big man on this season's roster. His minutes would be few, and would probably only increase if one of the five players in front of him went down with some sort of injury.
As fate would have it, Brian Scalabrine sprained his ankle in the Celtics' second to last preseason game and Davis of course broke his thumb in the midst of mixing it up with an old high school chum. It became clear Williams would be the benefactor of these events in terms of minutes and suddenly the Celtics were cashing in on their investment with their very own Landlord.
Coincidentally, I'm a Duke fan, so Williams was my guy alongside J.J. Redick during the earlier years of this decade when they were playing together in Durham. Williams was never a naturally gifted scorer. He would secure offensive rebounds and turn them into points, he'd run the floor well and get ahead of the defense and he threw down the occasional jump hook. When the Hawks drafted him fifth overall in 2006 it was unrealistic for them to believe he would come in and drastically change the direction of that franchise.
But when he arrived in Boston, that pressure was instantly lifted off of his shoulders. No matter how many minutes he earned, he would be playing alongside quality veterans who would always demand the full attention of the opposing defense. Because of the Celtics' depth, now that the minutes are here, Williams is free to revert back to the role which helped him achieve so much success at Duke. He'll score on occasion, fight for rebounds, block a few shots, bother opposing big men and run the floor well. So far, the numbers speak for themselves:
19.6 minutes, 8.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 blocks, 50% shooting, 85.7% free throw shooting.
Not bad. He recorded his first double-double as a Celtic on Friday against the Bulls, scoring 10 points and hauling in 10 boards. Garbage time or not, a double-double is a double-double. Williams is so far making the most of his minutes and has been a reliable contributor to a bench that has so far amassed 105 points in only three games. More importantly, Williams has been a reliable contributor to a bench that's helped procure three wins in three opportunities.
Confidence will be key for Williams as the minutes continue to be there, but so far, he clearly has confidence in himself and as a result, he's gaining the confidence and trust of the coaches, his teammates and the fans. He himself has acknowledged his appreciation for his current situation.
"It's a good situation for me to just come in and be me," said Williams. "So far it's working out well."
But now comes the interesting part of all of this. Personally, through these first three games, I have not once found myself watching the game and thinking, "Wow, I really wish we had had Glen Davis for that play" or "Man, Glen Davis would have been perfect in that situation." Quite simply, the Celtics are loving their Landlord and are not missing their Big Baby. I haven't even noticed Davis' absence, as the team hasn't missed a beat with him not in the lineup.
Sure, Davis is a terrific bench commodity, but Williams' numbers so far best those of Baby during last year's regular season. Davis obviously came alive in the postseason, but averaged only 7.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.2 blocks in the 76 regular season contests he was a part of.
One might assume that when Davis returns from his thumb injury in six weeks the minutes will be waiting for him. But not so fast. Will Doc simply give Davis his job back, or will Davis be forced to earn his time on the court all over again? Because right now, we're 3-0 with Williams as our fourth big man and we're not laboring at all without Davis' presence. It's not as if Williams is just some no-name big body Doc has been forced to plug in for the sake of having a big man on the floor. Doc has been playing Shelden because Shelden is producing and impacting these games.
If Davis had injured the thumb in practice or in a game or in a basketball-related drill, I think we'd immediately see him re-inserted into the lineup upon his return. However, based on the way he hurt his thumb and Williams' consistent performance, I'm inclined to believe Doc and Danny Ainge will force Baby to earn the minutes back, if only to keep on teaching him a lesson and help him continue to grow as a player and as a person.
But let's say Davis does indeed earn the minutes back. What will Doc do with Williams then? With the way the Celtics are blowing out teams so far, it's likely there will be minutes available for Shelden, but so far his performance does not warrant mere garbage time action. Will Doc make a concerted effort to keep Williams in the main rotation? Or will he simply sit him, confident in knowing he has a serviceable big man waiting on the pine should the situation call for it? Has Williams officially passed Scalabrine on the depth chart?
I suppose only time will tell, but Shelden Williams has the next six weeks to bolster his resume and prove to Doc he belongs in the rotation, even once Glen Davis returns.