Robert Williams has easily been one of Boston’s five best players this season. He might even be their third best player. Does this mean his relatively limited role is perfect for him, or should he see more playing time?
Against the Atlanta Hawks, Javonte Green became the 14th Celtic to start a game this year. This leaves Robert Williams, Tacko Fall, and Aaron Nesmith as the only Celtics to have only played off the bench. Two-thirds of this equation makes sense, but why hasn’t Rob started? In his 15 minutes per game, he’s blowing out most of his teammates in production. Here’s a list of stats and where Rob ranks on the team (note: all numbers excluding Tacko Fall):
- 130 offensive rating (1st)
- 102 defensive rating (1st)
- 4.1 box plus/minus (3rd)
- .227 winshares/48 minutes (1st)
- 7.0 block percentage (1st)
- 3.4 steal percentage (1st)
- 19.5 rebound percentage (2nd)
- .731 true shooting percentage (1st)
Daniel Theis leads the team in total blocks with 26 in 623 minutes played. Rob has 24 blocks in 317 minutes. Jaylen Brown (868 minutes) and Marcus Smart (549 minutes) lead the team with 31 steals each. Rob already has 22 in his limited playing time.
If we combine steals and blocks, Jaylen and Rob would lead the team with 46 total. Jaylen has 76 turnovers on the season, while Rob only has 22. Jaylen has had an incredible season, and yet the contrast here is staggering. Rob is packing the stat sheet at a blistering pace compared to his teammates. Some more comparisons:
- Jayson Tatum: 29 steals, 9 blocks (38 total), 74 turnovers
- Marcus Smart: 31 steals, 9 blocks (38 total), 56 turnovers
- Daniel Theis: 15 steals, 26 blocks (41 total), 27 turnovers
- Tristan Thompson: 9 steals, 9 blocks (18 total), 24 turnovers
- Semi Ojeleye (leads the team in 27 games played): 8 steals, 0 blocks(?!), 12 turnovers
As I’ve written many times, Boston’s top four players (Brown, Tatum, Smart, Walker) have played a total of 28 minutes together. Plug Rob into the lineup, and it’s... zero. Zero minutes. Replace Smart with Theis and you’re up to two total minutes.
Some other lineup notes (per pbpstats.com):
- Tatum and Rob on the floor, Jaylen and Kemba off: +7.32 net rating in 129 minutes
- Jaylen and Rob on, Kemba and Tatum off: -22.65 net rating in 65 minutes
- Kemba and Rob on, Jays off: -31.74 in 23 minutes
- Jays and Rob on, Kemba off: +46.35 net rating in 48 minutes
- Smart and Rob on, Jays and Kemba off: +45.83 in just seven minutes
Any of those ratings can change drastically in a very short time, but I think it speaks more to just how little time the Celtics have been afforded to play together when healthy. In fact, the incredibly little significance of these small sample size lineups can more or less be applied to the outcomes of a lot of regular season games they’ve played. What we’ve seen so far simply isn’t indicative of what the team would look like when healthy.
Rob’s recurring hip issues and recovery from COVID has likely taken a toll on his minutes. Brad Stevens’ short tolerance for unforced errors may have played a part as well. That being said, Rob averages less minutes per game than Javonte Green, Jeff Teague, Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams (who’s been better recently!).
Not every NBA player is equipped to take on a major role. It’s entirely possible that Rob does so well in so little time because he doesn’t have to sustain it for 30 minutes per game. He also the highest turnover rate on the team (17.6%) and that’s an area of improvement that he’d need to tone done. Of course, we’ll never know if that’s the case until Rob gets a chance to prove it.
No matter how much stock you put into the regular season, the Celtics must feel pretty desperate after losing three straight games to sub-.500 teams, including the two of the worst clubs in the conference. There’s only so much the Celtics can change in the short term with the trade deadline still weeks away, but I think they can at least stabilize by tossing a few more minutes to Rob. If it doesn’t fix anything, what’s the worst that can happen? They lose to some bad teams?