Fans of Robert Williams are accustomed to seeing the Celtics big man get up for a highlight play. Whether it’s an alley-oop dunk or a monster block, Timelord’s 40-inch vertical has separated himself from the other young players on Boston’s bench. Heading into Year 3, Williams is looking to make another kind of jump.
“I honestly feel like I’ll make a great jump this year, not only for myself, but also for my team,” Williams said of his development. “I feel like I’m around great guys to do that, too. Like I said, bringing in Tristan (Thompson), someone I can learn from easily and every day learning stuff from (Daniel) Theis, I feel like they put me in a great position, too.”
Over the last two years, Williams has played in a total of only 77 games (including the playoffs). He’s been hampered by a bone edema in his left hip and reoccurring back issues, but after a promising return in the bubble and being effective in the playoffs, he looks primed to make a big impact in 2020-2021.
“He really played well in the playoffs, especially in the Toronto series,” Brad Stevens said after today’s practice. “And then I think he’s backed that up through the first couple of days of practice. I’m very encouraged.”
With Thompson out for a large chunk of training camp with a hamstring injury, Williams not only has a chance to be a change-of-pace shot of energy off the bench, but a consistent contributor in the rotation. Outside of his freakish athleticism, we’ve seen glimpses of the improvement in his game. He’s shown an ability to act as a playmaker and passer from the high post. His next building block could come on the defensive end.
After spending his rookie year with Al Horford and Aron Baynes, former Celtics assistant coach Kara Lawson noted just how much a talker Williams had become in Summer League. For Stevens, it was a good reminder of how a player can hit a developmental milestone without playing time.
"Kara Lawson came up to me and said, 'I wish everybody talked like Rob [Williams].'"— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 8, 2020
Brad Stevens discusses the change in Rob Williams over the years and how he can contribute this season. #Celtics @TDBank_US pic.twitter.com/N2hsSwIL5A
Communication has been Williams’ focus during this short offseason. “I feel like I’ve been great vocally. I feel like I’m stepping up in that aspect,” Williams said. His leaping ability has been his most translatable skill so far in the NBA and ironically, it’ll be staying on the floor and playing smart defense that will get him to the next level. That means not getting suckered by shot fakes, playing more positional defense rather than sensational D, and getting lower against ball handlers in the pick-and-roll. It’s these subtleties in the game that he’ll have to master. For Williams, touching the ceiling has never been an issue. Reaching his own is another question.