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Robert Williams III exit interview: he’s that guy

Robert? More like HIMothy (No? Sorry, I’m trying to delete it)

2022 NBA Finals - Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Before this season even started, the front office demonstrated their love and trust for the former 28th overall pick by offering Robert Williams III a rookie contract extension. Worth $48 million over four years, this contract quickly became an underpay as Williams demonstrated one undeniable truth over the course of last season – he’s the scariest player on this team.

There are superstars – superstars! – who would dash into Boston’s paint just to change plans of attacking the rim because of the mere thought of Robert Williams. For those foolish enough to not let that thought deter them, Williams exercised his authority with a monstrous block. And for those fortunate enough to avoid the block, the attempt would be skewed enough to avoid Williams’ outstretch arms that he accomplished his job anyway – protect the rim.

Nothing about this is new; Williams has been an athletic freak of nature since his rookie season in 2019-20. What is new is that Williams asserted himself as the starting center, and he was able to – for the most part – stay healthy to fully realize his potential as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and First Team All-Defense winner.

The Celtics’ starting five of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Robert Williams had a commanding net rating of +13, according to nba.com/stats. Williams was a huge contributor to the team’s success, with the Celtics tied with the Suns for the best net rating on the season with 7.5. The Cs put up a tie for the best defensive rating in the league at 106.9 while also finishing with a top-10 offense.

Williams was critical in his role, functioning as a vertical spacer, crucial rebounder, rim deterrent, and more. But again, the key to his emergence this year was his health. Prior to this year, Williams’ career-highs in minutes and games played were 18.9 and 52, respectively. This year, Williams averaged 29.2 minutes per game and played in 61 games.

What did Robert Williams do with that time? He posted career-highs across the board. 10.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.2 blocks, and 0.9 steals on 73.6% shooting from the field and 72.2% shooting from the free-throw line. That’s right, every single one of those stats is a career-high.

Golden State Warriors Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In the playoffs, Williams elevated to another level when he was healthy, despite constant knee ailments that thankfully won’t require further surgery this summer. He averaged 7.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 0.7 steals on 67.9% shooting from the field and 89.3% shooting from the free-throw line (!!!!!). All of those except for the blocks stat are career-highs, and if Robert Williams hadn’t blocked 9 shots against the Nets last year, it’d be career-highs across the board.

Where do we go next with Williams? While he did much to beat the health allegations, he still needs to work on his availability. The good news is that in the NBA Finals series, Williams looked more and more like himself as the series went on. The goal is for him to strengthen his legs and joints this summer so that he can be durable for another long playoff run.

As far as his game, Williams experimented more with his midrange shot. The Celtics were at their deadliest when they ran sets through the bigs near the elbow, and Rob’s passing is a huge part in making that work. Defensively, Williams is a menace, but he can still be baby food in one-on-one post defense. Shoring up his core strength and “stand-his-ground-ness” will be a big key as Horford continues to age and may not be able to take on the Joel Embiids and Nikola Jokics of the league moving forward.

Williams was able to be hidden on opposing wings who weren’t huge offensive threats so that he could roam for maximum chaos, but that may not be a luxury that the Celtics have for too long with this current roster. For that reason, he has to put on a little more mass. Not too much, though, so that he can still leap to the heavens to snatch both the hopes and shots of opposing teams.

But in reality, I want to take a moment to appreciate and thank Williams for how far he’s come. The character questions coming out of the draft were nonsense, but there are several scenarios in which Williams doesn’t take this job seriously and falls out of the league. He’s been the consummate professional since being late to Summer League practice, and because of that, he has four years of guaranteed money and more defensive accolades staring him down. If he stays healthy, the ceiling of the Boston Celtics will always be sky high (just like his reach).