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Robert Williams’ prophetic passing

Is Robert Williams extremely impulsive or does he know where to pass before he catches the ball?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Williams passes are like love at first sight. I mean literally - he passes to the first guy he sees nearly every time. The Dimelord mostly makes his living as a rim-running center, but his best skill, in my opinion, is his ability to pass.

In an increased role from last season, the rest of Williams’ game remains the same, if not slightly more refined. He’s playing six more minutes per game this year, but more importantly, he’s playing in every game that’s he’s healthy. Per 100 possessions (and by other metrics), his stats are very similar to last season. His usage is about the same, as is his overall skill set, so this makes sense. There is one glaring exception however:

That’s 4.5 times more assists per 100 possessions than last season on similar usage.

Brad Wanamaker, who played in just four more games and a total of 60 more minutes than Williams, is posting nearly identical numbers across the board as he did last year:

In a similar increase in minutes, both Wanamaker and Williams are turning the ball over once more per 100 possession than before, which is to be expected when a player has the ball in their hands more. But Wanamaker’s assists are up 0.1 per 100 possessions while Williams’ are up 4.4. This is a monumental increase that you just don’t see very often from players this early in their careers.

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

One such leap we’ve seen recently is Pascal Siakam, whose assists per 100 went from 1.0 up to 4.7 between his rookie and sophomore seasons, pushing his AST% from 2.9 to 13.5. Nikola Jokic dished 5.5 assists per 100 in his rookie season, followed by 8.6 the next year. His AST% jumped from 18.1 to 28.8. Giannis Antetokounmpo went from 4.2 assist per 100 in his second season up to 6.2 in his third, and then 7.7 in his fourth.

None of these players are similar, but these are the biggest leaps I could find in terms of modern big men improving on their passing. In terms of guards, James Harden’s assists per 100 jumping from 9.6 to 14.8 between his seventh and eighth seasons is pretty insane, too.

Robert’s passing is interesting in that he gets rid of the ball as quickly as possible, almost as if it were preordained. Whether this is from the most intense awareness or sheer impulsiveness, I can’t tell. Here’s one:

Caught and released in a fraction of a second, and aimed perfectly so Smart could catch-and-shoot. Here’s another:

No hesitation and right on the money. Has Timelord taken a leap towards becoming a playmaking center or does he impulsively pass to the first guy he sees? I don’t think he’s that clumsy, but he’s had some moments:

This clip is not an outlier. Most of his outlet passes are not turnovers, but they’re often rushed. Sometimes, he flings an offensive rebound into the vicinity of a teammate before even touching the ground. Here’s a more difficult pass with a more careful approach:

And by more careful, I mean taking one dribble before bouncing a bullet off the floor.

I know it goes without saying, but Williams adding a real jump shot to complement his passing would expand his game more than anything. As far as scoring goes, his best offensive skills are in the paint where there’s generally less opportunity to pass, making his dishing and dunking skills sort of at odds with each other.

To this point, Williams has followed a familiar trajectory as a project player without refined scoring skills -- he’s earning minutes by impacting the game in other ways. Sooner or later, though, he’ll need to become a scoring threat to make the most of his passing. I mean, he doesn’t have to, but imagine, if you will, a power forward or center-sized player with fantastic passing ability, strong defensive instincts, and no jump shot to speak of. Surely, that player would be encouraged to shoot more. You know, hypothetically.

If not, then Williams just might grow into a unique rim-running, pass-slinging talent. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially on this roster. The Celtics will continue to shuffle lineups, due to injury and otherwise, so I’d keep an eye on Williams’ passing as an indicator of an increased role moving forward.

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