Robert Williams continued to impress in limited minutes for the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. Having missed considerable time this year due to a hip edema, Williams came into the NBA restart with doubt and uncertainty surrounding his viability as a rotation piece for the Celtics.
Since being given the opportunity, the 6’10 big has produced on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Timelord has become a focal point of the second unit, striking up a telepathic partnership with Marcus Smart and executing pick-and-roll plays to perfection.
The pairing was back at it again against the Memphis Grizzlies, as Smart continually found ways to get Williams involved early. Over their last three games, Williams and Smart have combined several times for an early lob when running a high double screen pick-and-roll.
The crux of this play is to get Williams in space while building up momentum downhill, and Smart can fire off the lob pass for Williams to rise and finish. Verticle spacing at its finest. An alley-oop dunk is aesthetically pleasing, however, it also adds substance in forcing defensive rotations when Williams sets a high screen. If a team anticipates the roll, they will have one of their bigs drop into the paint, leaving someone open on the perimeter.
Williams sees his role as a screener in a much simpler fashion, as he explained after his podium game:
“My main focus is to get them open and get them shots, so you know I try to tell them even before a play is drawn up. JT, Gordon, Carsen, I tell them I’m screening for you to get open shots, so be looking to shoot the ball.”
Against the Grizzlies, the former Texas A&M big was causing issues on the low block, which is something we have begun to see more and more of over the last few games. With his 7’5 wingspan, he’s a big target in the dunker spot on the weak side if a wing decides to drive or the defense decides to take a nap:
Williams is attacking off lobs, the low post, or occasional put-back, making it no surprise that the 22-year-old is taking 94% of his shots at the rim, finishing 81% of them per Cleaning The Glass, but there have been flashes of an attempt to expand his range.
Through the last five games, the Timelord has attempted 18 shots from mid-range. While those shots have generally failed to punish the lax coverage, they bode well for the future. In a recent episode of CelticsPod, Williams’ “next steps” were discussed with Mo Dakhil, a former video analyst for both the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. Dakhil talked about Williams’ two primary improvements being his ability to pass out of the short roll and development of a mid-range game. Williams has flashed both of these skills this season.
There was one play against the Grizzlies, where Williams’ grabbed the offensive rebound and hit Gordon Hayward with a magnificent pass to find him open on the strong-side corner.
What a nice pass by Williams to Hayward off the offensive rebound. Didn't end up in a shot or basket, but that was a great find.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) August 11, 2020
The pass did not end up as a scoring opportunity for Hayward, but it demonstrated Williams’s scaleability as a playmaker from both the block and the nail.
Outside of Williams’ impact on the offensive end, he displayed his credentials as a rim protector against Memphis by notching three blocks in under 12 minutes of basketball.
One of the biggest concerns revolving around the Louisiana native is that he is quick to bite on fakes, allowing his man an easy lane. Since the resumption of the season, Williams has shown far more self-control. Staying grounded, the young big can stay in front of his man.
Williams rotates into the paint to contest a Jonas Valanciunas drive. Timing his jump to perfection, Williams quickly rises to swat away the attempt. A few months ago, he would have tried to challenge the shot without the initial rotation taking place.
Overall, Williams’ performance against the Grizzlies was a microcosm of his overall growth since the NBA bubble began. Right now, Williams needs to keep impressing in his limited role to potentially earn a spot in this year’s playoff rotation and a more prominent spot next season.