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X’s and O’s Week: lob actions to Robert Williams

The Celtics have one of the best alley-oop threats in the league. Here’s why the presence of Time Lord offers such a security blanket for the team’s offense.

Boston Celtics v. Brooklyn Nets - Game Four
Robert Williams catching a lob.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Ah, the pick-and-roll. The easiest, most simple play in basketball is also one of its finest. It’s a great tactic that’s proved itself time-and-time again. The true mastermind of the pick-and-roll is a player that not only can run it effectively, but also use their gravity and athleticism to their advantage. And for the Boston Celtics, the fun begins with Robert Williams, the team’s bouncy, defensive anchor.

Head coach Ime Udoka buys into the hype, just like all of us. This is demonstrated by Udoka’s willingness to use Williams as a lob threat on the first possession of each game. What makes Williams so special is how quickly he can get to the basket. His long strides and quickness for the position get him to the rim in a few steps after setting the screen. Once he’s in the air, it’s over for the defense.

Williams’s role as a rim-runner is incredibly beneficial for the Celtics offense. Oftentimes, at the start of games, Boston typically places him as the roll man. This results in the defense collapsing against Williams, and it opens up the floor for the team’s shooters and perimeter players. However, Williams has grown in this role as well, as he’s gotten more creative and experimental in these types of situations.

Look at Williams serving as a screen roller draws attention from the defense. Williams leaves the handoff for Smart as setting the screen. Watch Joel Embiid — that slight step towards Williams as he rolls to the basket leaves Al Horford wide open up top for the open 3-pointer.

It’s the entire design of the play — it’s built around the attention Williams attracts as the roll man. There’s a lot more to this possession, however. If either Seth Curry or Danny Green rushes to Horford, there’s always the potential of a swing to Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown.

Williams also doesn’t waste time with this possession, he drives straight to hoop quickly. Instead of methodically getting there or looping around, Williams goes right for Embiid which draws both Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Therefore, nobody is left at the top of the perimeter to guard Horford.

You can just about guarantee Williams is going to snatch and throw down a lob once a game. He’s great at walking up the court, and catching the defense sleeping and playing flat-footed. And, thanks to his athleticism, he’s able to catch the ball from almost anywhere with his massive catch radius.

Williams is good for a couple alley-oops, dump-offs, and putback slams a night when the defense is focused on Tatum or Brown. The next step for Williams is developing as an off-the-dribble creator. He’s already demonstrated his progression as a passer, and he’s flashed some post-up and self-creation stuff, but there’s still work to be done.

Regardless, Williams as a lob threat and security blanket when possessions break down is something that’s highly valuable in the modern game. He’ll look to continue that progression and development as the Celtics attempt to take the next step as a championship-winning team.

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