With every dark cloud, there’s a silver lining, a reason for optimism. For the Boston Celtics, whose playoff run abruptly ended on Sunday, there are numerous reasons to be excited.
The obvious generalizations are the development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. While these two budding superstars will undoubtedly be covered in the coming days, it’s the younger guys such as Grant Williams, Robert Williams, and Romeo Langford who give cause for cautious optimism.
In Langford and Timelord, the Celtics boast two young players with starter-level upside. Alas, injuries have hampered both of these youngsters NBA careers thus far, missing large chunks of the regular season. However, when the team needed them most, these two young starlets produced when the team needed them most.
For Langford, he played his most consistent basketball in the bubble, slowly ramping up his defensive output to unexpected levels. In contrast, Robert Williams’ most impactful stretch came during the seeding games and early playoff rounds, where he found himself operating as the team’s energy injection from the bench.
Besides his rim protection and rim running, Timelord displayed a couple of scalable skills that capture the imagination for his future ceiling. Firstly, the second-year big demonstrated a passing ability when operating out of the short roll, regularly hitting cutters or guys spotting up on the weak side - although these flashes were primarily in the regular season before he went down with a hip edema. Secondly, Timelord began to find comfort when pulling up from the mid-range, although his jump shot will need continuous work to develop into a consistent weapon.
Regardless, those two skills (passing and mid-range shooting) bode well for Timelord’s future as a pick-and-roll big, capable of switching up the offense to counter defense rotations in the moment.
Langford, on the other hand, only displayed his potential in small but significant bursts. Primarily earning his minutes due to his activity on the defensive end, the Indiana native never hit the offensive heights those in his hometown would have come to expect following a legendary high school career.
In Langford, the Celtics have a young wing capable of developing into a penetration specialist, something the Celtics sorely needed against both Toronto and Miami during this year’s playoffs. Those offensive developments will take time, yet his defense should afford him enough time against NBA competition to figure it out.
Then there’s Grant Williams - the most impressive young Celtic throughout both the regular and post-season.
“That dude never ever stops talking. The most talkative rookie I’ve ever been around,” Gordon Hayward told the CelticsPod podcast at the beginning of quarantine.
Williams never came into the team as a projected glue guy, yet his personality on and off the court became infectious. Always on the sidelines, cheering on his teammates. Regardless of playing time, Williams has consistently been an energetic addition to the Celtics bench.
When called upon, the rookie has demonstrated a basketball IQ beyond his years, which filled the void left by Al Horford’s departure to some small extent. That same IQ has allowed Williams to become a respected defender at this early juncture in his career, something which was buoyed by his stellar performance when guarding the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo for stretches.
During his collegiate career, Grant Williams was primarily a post player, using his robust frame and throwback post moves to imprint his will on his opponent. The NBA has steadily moved away from requiring a post presence as a team looks towards floor spacing and rim running to increase their efficiency.
Coming into the NBA, it was a common theme that the young Texas native would be required to operate outside. Much was made of Williams’ poor start to his NBA three-point shooting. Nonetheless, he’s gone from strength to strength as the season progressed - finishing the playoffs with a three-point percentage of 58.8% on an average of one attempt per game.
Do any of these young projects project as a start on an NBA championship-caliber team? Unlikely. What about as a contributing bench piece on a championship team? Definitely (however, some more than others).
No doubt, there’s currently a ominous set of dark clouds looming over the Celtics fanbase, with a mist of uncertainty shrouding the immediate future. This young trio of exciting prospects may not set the world alight next year (or even the year after), but they will provide the Celtics with cost-controlled production for the foreseeable future.
There’s also just as much chance of one (or all) of these three players developing into a high-level contributor as there is them flaming out. For now, we can take solace in the fact that this roster isn’t an aging one that just spurned its last shot at a championship. Instead, it’s one sitting on the precipice of history - making internal development of paramount importance.