How many times have we approached draft night hoping and praying that the Celtics would be picking a legit center prospect? Danny Ainge typically (and correctly) focuses on the best player available, regardless of what our perception of the team needs are. This time it just so happens that the best player available happened to be a long, springy, lob-gobbler that also likes to swat balls into orbit. Welcome to the Celtics, Robert Williams!
The game has changed over the years. Big, bruising centers that back it down on the block and rely on contested baby hooks are a thing of the Jurassic past. Small-ball rotations and 5-out death lineups have become all the vogue in this Golden State age. But that doesn’t mean that big men are not needed in today’s NBA.
There’s still room for bruiser bigs that set hard screens and move their feet on defense. That’s what we got from Aron Baynes (and when he added a surprise 3-pointer to his game, it was like found money). The Celtics also got versatile switchability, high energy, and at least the threat of 3-point shooting from Daniel Thies. Greg Monroe sopped up some regular-season minutes and grabbed some rebounds, but ultimately he proved unplayable in the playoffs for any length of time.
A missing element in Boston last year was a hyper-athletic, rim-running big with the ability to protect the rim and still switch out on guards if need be. Enter Robert Williams.
Imagine him setting a pick at the top of the key for Kyrie Irving. If the defender fights over the pick (as he should when guarding Irving), Williams will dive to the hoop looking for a lob. If the defense shuts off his lane to the rim, that’s one extra step they’ll be away from Gordon Hayward on the perimeter. If he gets the ball from Irving and somehow a defender finds his way into his zip code, a skip pass will be available to a wide open Jayson Tatum. Meanwhile, Williams is positioning himself to grab offensive rebounds and put them back for dunks (you know, the kinds of second-chance points that always deflated the Celtics after a hard-fought defensive effort).
Of course all of that assumes he’ll be on the court. Nothing is a given, particularly for a player that dropped to the 27th pick in the draft due to motor concerns. Brad Stevens won’t tolerate lollygagging, tomfoolery, or ballyhoo. Boston seems like the ideal place for a guy that started drifting sideways to get straightened out and set on a path of progress. Still, it doesn’t always work out for everyone under Brad Stevens (it just seems that way). Williams may very well spend a lot of time in Maine next season, in particular since the roster is already stacked.
Still, he’s just so long and athletic that you have to imagine that Brad Stevens is going to figure out a few fun ways to use him, maybe even right away. Brad is already talking about the spacing and game impact that Williams could provide surrounded by shooters. Clint Capela is a common comparison, and if Williams can give the Celtics 30% of what Clint did this year, they’ll be ecstatic. If nothing else, he provides another matchup wrinkle that other teams will have to account for.
Even the Warriors, known for their lineups that put Draymond Green at what is nominally called “center”, knew that they needed a crew of bigs that could eat up minutes in the regular season. Sometimes you just need the option of sending out a ridiculously long human being that can grab the ball at the top of the box on the backboard.
There’s a place for Robert Williams on this team, and he may very well have found himself in the ideal landing spot. If nothing else, he’s going to give us some fun highlight dunks and something to root for in garbage time. Given enough time and seasoning in the right system and role, and he could be much more than that.
Considering where he was picked in the draft, this was a very low-risk pick with the potential for a huge payoff. I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops. At last we have our long, athletic center. Let’s see what he can do.