After falling short last postseason in the NBA Finals, one thing became evidently clear to the Boston Celtics: Robert Williams is crucial to the ceiling of this team. Williams was integral to the team’s top-ranked defense, and it’s no surprise that the team’s defensive stats began to slowly tick upwards following his return this season.
Two surgeries later, and it still remains the same: the Celtics are simply a better team with Williams out on the floor. Boston’s coaching and medical staff needed to put their heads together on how to get the most out of his minutes, while also avoiding reinjury or pushing him beyond his limits. Ultimately, having Rob come off the bench for the time being is a fantastic move, and one that could pay dividends in the long run for all parties.
Running a double big lineup is effective and the stats back it up, but with Al Horford getting older and Robert Williams dealing with injuries, it’s not a realistic or sustainable option. While it can be used against specific opponents to match their size (see Cleveland Cavaliers), the Celtics are better off staggering Horford and Williams and starting Derrick White in Rob’s place.
Horford’s minutes have been managed well by Boston too, as the veteran has not played on the second leg of back-to-backs, similar to what the Celtics did for Kemba Walker with his chronic knee issues. So far, the method has been extremely effective in keeping Horford fresh, and for Robert Williams coming off the bench, it’s the best of both worlds. It allows Williams to reduce his workload in terms of minutes, as well as wreak havoc against opposing second units.
Thursday night was a reminder of how impactful Robert Williams can be when his health is managed, dropping 7 points on 3-3 shooting along with 7 rebounds, an assist, four blocks, and a steal in almost 19 minutes of floor time. His highlights from Boston’s 140-99 blowout included a block on Giannis Antetokounmpo. It would be better for both Williams and the Celtics to continue utilizing him in his current role, or at least until he gets through the offseason into next season.
Giannis thought he had a wide-open dunk and Rob just noped him pic.twitter.com/TG2n8gpJqL— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) March 31, 2023
Derrick White has done more than enough to earn a starting role on this team as currently constructed, and has been an ironman for the Celtics, not missing a single game during the season. His emergence in Year Two has made it easier and feasible to change back to a single big lineup, and the blend of Horford plus Smart-White-Brown-Tatum maximizes the Celtics’ defensive capabilities while also keeping one of their best offensive units on the floor.
Coach Mazzulla says Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Payton Pritchard will play tonight. Rob Williams and Al Horford are both out. Blake Griffin will start.— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 31, 2023
Resting Robert Williams in games like Friday night against the Jazz just make sense if the long-term goal is to win an NBA championship. Boston has gone out and acquired players like Luke Kornet, Blake Griffin, and Mike Muscala to flesh out depth at the 4 and 5 spots for this exact purpose.
Jaylen Brown has said it. Jayson Tatum has expressed it, too. Al Horford as well. This team knows how important Robert Williams is and the difference he makes when he’s on the floor. If the best way to achieve this is to keep him in a bench role, then that’s that. Without Williams close to full strength, winning an NBA championship is all the more difficult on the rest of the roster.