Kemba Walker is still on the shelf after receiving a stem cell injection in his troublesome knee. Tristan Thompson will miss a large chunk of training camp with a hamstring injury. Romeo Langford just got out of his cast and will aim for a February return after wrist rehab. Brad Stevens has tempered expectations on lottery pick Aaron Nesmith. With Brad Stevens still in the “evaluation phase” of not only determining the starting lineup but figuring out the roster’s rotation, there’s so much uncertainty heading into next season.
It’s a quick turnaround with little time for Boston’s bench littered with twentysomethings to get their feet wet. However, we’re already getting glimpses that some of the younger Celtics are ready for bigger, more consistent roles. Yesterday, Robert Williams projected a significant leap in development and today, Stevens stressed the importance of a versatile Grant Williams.
“We need him to make shots when he’s spacing behind the 3, we need him to be a ball mover, be a facilitator, and be able to guard as many positions as possible,” Stevens said of the sophomore forward.
That sounds like a tall order for a kid that just turned 22 and wrapped up his first season in the NBA, but his playoff performance in September have raised the bar. Only eighty-six days will separate the Celtics from their Game 6 defeat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and their first game against the Milwaukee Bucks to kick off the 2020-2021 season. That will be eighty-six days since Williams hit 10-of-17 from behind the arc against the 76ers, Raptors, and Heat. That will be eighty-six days since Williams played small ball 5 and become a switchable center who blocked Fred VanVleet’s game-tying 3 in Game 7 against Toronto. As CelticsBlog’s Greg Cassoli-Brueck described, “Williams is a wrecking ball with nimble feet, good instincts, but no shortage of offensive warts.”
It’s unlikely that Williams will be the starting power forward on December 23rd, but at this point, he’s a veteran by Boston’s standards particularly with the departures of elder statesmen Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Brad Wanamker. And as Stevens noted in today’s media availability that while the layoff has been abbreviated, the experience of a long playoff run beats any offseason program that the team could have put together. While that doesn’t benefit any of the current rookies, it will pay dividends to those younger players like Williams that were asked to step up in the bubble and under the bright lights of the postseason.