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Robert Williams is better on offense than you think

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Robert Williams has built a reputation on the defensive end, but his smart plays on offense shouldn’t be ignored.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Are we sure shot blocking is Robert Williams’ best skill?

With so much attention on Timelord’s blocks, we lose sight of his passing and playmaking. And if fans are going to so loudly proclaim Boston needs to find a center, we may as well take the time to clarify what our current big men can do and can do well.

I’ve previously joked about Williams’ passing being “love at first sight.” He seems to pass so quickly and so decisively that I can’t tell if it’s because of his confidence in the play or if it was simply the first person he saw and impulsively pulled the trigger.

Watching the Celtics try to score on Toronto’s defense during the playoffs was like trying to pull teeth with a rubber band, but the clip above is great because it shows a lot of situational awareness and quick decision making from the Williamses. The Raptors made it nearly impossible for Robert Williams to set a useful screen, so he moved to get the ball in open space where he could find Grant in stride to the basket. I’m not sure how Robert drew so much attention with the ball at the free throw line, but I think Toronto was probably caught off guard by him reading the trap on Kemba so well. This forced them to adjust on the fly, leaving Grant open.

If Max is correct in thinking Rob improvised on setting that screen, then it should win you over as a believer in Rob’s offensive instincts. And if Max is wrong, it’s still a good screen! If the Celtics bring their isolation-centric offense into the next season, productive off-ball plays become twice as important.

One common complaint about Boston’s offense last season was that there wasn’t enough ball movement, but it’s important to understand that the Celtics were exceptional in isolation. I noted back in February that the team’s free throw rate had increased as the assist rate went down because the offense was re-modeled to optimize isolation play. Keep in mind that “assists” and “playmaking” are not the same thing, and that raw assist numbers aren’t exactly an indication of strong passing.

If you’re like me and like to make fun of the Houston Rockets “standing around” while James Harden dribbles (whether or not it’s accurate to say so), give the Celtics their due credit for creating shot opportunities with off-ball screens, usually in the form of Daniel Theis sealing a defender under the basket. Robert Williams slinging passes in the middle of the defense and opportunistically setting screens to free up shooters would add another unique wrinkle to the offense when he’s on the floor compared to his teammates. I doubt he overtakes Daniel Theis as a starter, but as a passer, he’s already better.

He’s so quick to find the right play sometimes that it almost feels preordained.

I’ve been writing this as a wave of trade rumors sweep away my concentration. My thoughts on what the Celtics rotation could look like are in flux with the Celtics tied to Myles Turner and/or Jrue Holiday deals. What I’ll say is that I’m pleasantly surprised with Rob’s development on offense over the past season and think he’s a better piece than he gets credit for. Maybe not significantly better, but it really feels like he doesn’t get credit for his offense. His shooting obviously needs work, but I’ve already talked myself into him developing the Amir Johnson trebuchet-style three-pointer before long.

Timelord’s name hasn’t been mentioned in trade speculation, but fans and Celtics management should take pause when considering putting him into a trade package. If you still think the Celtics are in desperate need of a new center, then you’re entitled to your opinion. All I ask is you take a moment to look at Rob (and Grant, for that matter) Williams’ development before you dial up the trade machine.