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Appreciating the uniqueness of Robert Williams

There isn’t another player quite like him in the NBA.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons
Robert Williams skies for a rebound in the first half of the Celtics’ win over the Pistons on Monday.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine, if you will, a player who’s 6-foot-9 but towers over everyone like he’s 7-foot-3 and swats shots like the shooter personally wronged him.

He doesn’t need the ball to be effective, and when he gets it, he makes quick and wise decisions and sees the floor like a point guard in a center’s body. He’s lethal in the pick-and-roll, soars like he’s bouncing on a trampoline and has no ego whatsoever. The only legitimate knock on his game is that sometimes he should be more selfish.

This sounds like a created player and someone every team in the NBA would want. The Celtics are fortunate enough to have him. Robert Williams is on the short list of “most unique players in the NBA.” His size and athleticism, paired with his grace and humility, make him 1 of 1.

He’s the only NBA player logging regular minutes who, per 36 minutes, is averaging at least 13 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2 blocks while shooting at least 70 percent. Whoa, that’s pretty good. Yes. Yes, it is.

Williams gets some credit, but truthfully, he should get more than he does. When his career is over, if all goes according to plan, he has a chance to be in the discussion as one of the better Celtics bigs of all-time. Guys like Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish are untouchable, but he should be in that next tier if he stays healthy and they end up getting at least a few rings when it’s all said and done.

Monday’s win over the Pistons was a classic Williams game. He finished with 15 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He only had one block, but it was a memorable one, when he absolutely obliterated a Saddiq Bey shot in the second quarter. You’d think guys would know not to try that stuff on him anymore, but they seem to forget more often than they should.

There was also a funny play where he swooped in and corralled a Jayson Tatum airball, turned around, then seemed to remember “Oh, yeah. I can shoot this!” and swiftly floated it up for two before puffing his chest.

Perhaps his coolest play of the night, though, is one that won’t show up in the stat sheet. In the fourth quarter, Williams caught the ball just outside the paint and plotted his next move. The Celtics were trying to work clock at that point, and Williams saw no immediate options, so he fired a one-handed pass through the key and over to Al Horford on the baseline. He knew exactly where Horford was, without even looking, and made the pass so nonchalantly.

Very few big men have that kind of vision and feel for the game. It’s rare. He’s not Tim Duncan, but he has a Duncan-esque approach to the game. His best plays are often ones that go unnoticed to the casual observer, and he’s as effective behind the scenes as he is as the forefront.

There are bigs with better shots, bigs who gobble up more rebounds and bigs who demand the ball more, but there aren’t any other bigs who fill the exact role Williams does. Nic Claxton is probably the closest comparison, or maybe Walker Kessler or JaVale McGee, but they’ve got nothing on Williams.

The key, of course, is keeping him as healthy as possible for the playoffs. He’s starting to look more and more like himself, so the Celtics should rest him whenever they can moving forward. Play him once a week if you have to. Just make sure he’s good to go when it matters most.

Don’t take him for granted, folks. Players like Williams don’t come around very often. When he’s on the floor wreaking havoc, the Celtics go from great to essentially unbeatable.

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