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Magic number: can Robert Williams make big strides with little playing time?

Time to look at what the Celtics’ rookie needs to work on during the 2018-19 season.

NBA: Summer League-Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ahh yes, Robert Williams. Good ole’ Boo Butt. The Texas A&M product has had an interesting start to his Boston Celtics career, but it’s not all bad. Amongst the lost wallets, delayed conference calls, and missed flights sits a 6’10 20-year-old who presents one of the highest ceilings of any big man in the 2018 NBA Draft class. Yes, he’s extremely athletic. Yes, he possesses lottery talent. Yes, he’s a great shot blocker. BUT (you knew it was coming), he’s 20. Williams is very early in his development, so he has plenty to work on.

Before I begin going through Williams’ game, I want to make a note - I will not be including his attention to detail off the floor. We all know he needs to be better about sleeping in, losing his wallet, missing flights, blah, blah, blah. We’ll leave that up to Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge to fix. For now, let’s focus on what he can work on on the hardwood.

Williams is the prime example of an athletic shot blocker, who plays above the rim on both sides of the ball. Like many 20-year-old big men, he’s pretty raw and will need to polish his game on both sides of the ball. With a 7’4 wingspan, he has the potential to be a productive player in this league for years to come, but that’ll only occur if he touches up on a few things.

If you’re looking at numbers alone to search for weaknesses, his stats don’t really produce anything mind blowing, but there are a few that stick out. During his two seasons at Texas A&M, he shot 54.1% from the free throw line. The charity stripe is often an issue with young bigs, and Williams is no different. Much of this stems from his poor shot mechanics, an area where he has a plethora of problems.

His shooting mechanics are all over the place, and normally have a very low starting point (I say normally because his form is constantly changing). Seeing him improve from the line would be a nice addition to his set of skills, and fixing his shooting motion would most likely help those numbers.

Williams is a tremendous rebounder thanks to his size and jumping ability, but his numbers don’t necessarily represent how talented he can be on the glass. He averaged 8.7 rebounds per game in his Aggie career, which could be representative of playing alongside Tyler Davis, A&M’s other talented big man. Either way, Williams didn’t progress too much on the boards from his freshman to sophomore year (8.2 to 9.2), leading to discussions on his activity in the paint.

He’s rather reactive on the glass rather than proactive, but that will ideally change as he touches up his overall feel for the game. The bottom line here is that a guy with his athleticism and skill should have ridiculous rebounding numbers, but he doesn’t. Again, this could very well be a result of playing in a solid college front court, but it also may have something to do with his lack discipline and effort.

Robert Williams won’t be playing major minutes for the Celtics this coming season, but let’s talk about a few more things that he’ll need to improve on with his limited role:


Williams has been knocked by almost all scouting reports and draft experts for his lack of consistency. He’s been known to take possessions off and disappear for stretches, while oftentimes having his effort placed in question. He’ll need to adjust to playing less minutes at the same time that he searches for consistency, and that won’t be easy, but it’ll be interesting to see how Williams adapts to his new surroundings and tailors his game around them.

Something as simple as staying in his defensive stance when he’s running out of gas, or even fighting for position in the post against a bigger opponent, are things that he’ll need to do when he gets his chance on the floor. With limited minutes, he’s going to have to be involved each and every second he’s out there. If anyone is going to get him to play consistent, productive, and competitive basketball, it’s Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens (and let’s not forget Al Horford).

Feel for the game

It’s pretty rare to find a 20-year-old big man who has a nice and polished feel for the game. Williams is still very raw and early in his development, but there’s a few things in particular that he can work on in during the upcoming season. His athleticism makes him a scary pick-and-roll threat on the offensive end, especially with ball handlers like Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward on the floor. For him to reach his max potential in that category, he’ll need to focus on things like setting proper screens prior to cutting towards the basket. He’s always looking towards that result, rather than focusing on the little things that will get him there, and that hurt his PnR game in college. Those little things matter so much more in the NBA, and the Celtics will stress that with him.

Circling back to his rebounding ability - improving his feel for the game will dramatically help him on the glass. Boxing out his matchup early and often is something that was rarely seen at Texas A&M. This ties in with his footwork and touch in the paint, which both need some improvements.

He clearly has the talent, so focusing on touching up these small factors will make Year One go much smoother. The 6-10 forward needs to refine his overall offensive game, but that all starts with a growing basketball IQ.

Robert Williams is so talented and still so early in his development, so don’t let these notes dissuade you from thinking he has the chance to be a productive NBA big, because he does. One year under Al Horford and Brad Stevens can do magical things, so placing a dynamic prospect like Williams in that position has my expectations rather high.