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CelticsBlog exit interview: Robert Williams

Williams took another leap this year, but he’s one more leap away from being as reliable as the team needs him to be.

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors - Game Seven Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Eastern Conference Semifinals were so long that it’s easy to forget that a big reason why the Boston Celtics came out and curb stomped the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 and (to a lesser degree) Game 2 was Robert Williams III (third of his name). He didn’t miss a single shot through the first two games of the series while playing really solid rotational defense and offering rim-running offense. It was sensational.

I mean, come on. This happened in the middle of a crucial playoff (road) game!

Williams’ impact waned slightly as the series progressed, but those first two games were a glimpse at what the Celtics need Timelord to be next season. For most of his sophomore season, that’s not what Robert Williams was, but also to be fair to him, what Robert Williams was for most of the last season was injured.

In a 72-game season, Robert Williams managed to only suit up for 29 games. He missed a huge chunk of the year with a . . . bone edema in his hip, which is wild because I didn’t even know that was an injury that could happen. Williams missed a crucial stretch from December to February, and right when he made his return and was easing back into the lineup – BAM – pandemic and no competitive basketball for Williams who was itching to get back.

Like everyone else, he rode quarantine out and arrived at Disney ready to finally shine. To an extent, he did. Timelord showed us that he’s not a late draft pick that will flare out. If he corrects some of his flaws, he could be a missing piece for this team.

Despite Daniel Theis’ beyond-excellent play this past season (and with the Celtics being two games away from the NBA Finals), it’s been debated ad nauseam how Boston has a big-man problem. I disagree with that take.

There are far more important things for the Celtics to address this offseason than getting another big body. The Celtics stared down Joel Embiid and swept him with Daniel Theis leading the way at the five. Serge Ibaka gave the Celtics trouble, but he’s not exactly the big bruiser people hypothetically pit against the Celtics when discussing how they need an upgrade at the 5. Finally, yes, Bam Adebayo carved the Celtics up, but there were so many other things the Celtics could have done to win the series besides just contain Adebayo.

All this is to say that Robert Williams is already part of the solution for the Celtics if he continues on his upward trajectory. He has his flaws as a player, that’s for sure. But the foundation and the groundwork are there already. Now, he just needs to enter his third season ready to do it consistently.

Robert Williams has tremendous defensive potential, but for as great as his instincts are, his instincts are also his greatest weakness. Too many times does Williams get baited into doing exactly what the opposing offense wants, whether that’s biting on shot fakes, rotating over at the wrong time, or not defending the 3-point line well. These are all things he needs to clean up if he wants to see minutes on the floor next year at the rate he was seeing the floor against Toronto in the conference semis.

Here’s what Timelord does well: he creates extra possessions with his energy on the offensive glass, he’s quite obviously a paint deterrent for opposing offenses with his high-energy shot blocking, his passing is far more advanced than anyone could reasonably expect out of him, and he’s always learning and improving. He allows the offense do things like this:

If he can clean up the mental part of his game (and there’s significant progress there from his Summer League debut in 2018 for sure, which leaves me optimistic), Williams has the backup center position locked down. And I honestly think that’s a good thing. The Celtics need bench shooting and a veteran presence to “fix” this roster. The answer is not an overpaid big who’s only useful against maybe 1-3 Eastern Conference teams.

In 29 games this season, Robert Williams averaged 5.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 13.4 minutes. He shot 72.7% from the field and 64.7% from the free-throw line. What Williams gave the Celtics (in a big-man rotation that included Theis, Grant Williams and Enes Kanter) was a high-energy shot-blocker.

As Robert Williams (third of his name) exits this season heading into next season, he needs to be a complete defender and more than just a fast-twitch shot blocker. If he can combine more thoughtful defense with the skills he already has on the offensive glass and with passing, he’ll be a valuable edition to a young team trying to take another step toward Banner 18.

Incidentally, as Timelord, he’s probably already celebrating the 2020-21 championship. We just have to catch up.

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