We’ve all seen the footage of Robert Williams working out with his skills trainer Aaron Miller in recent weeks. The videos that have circled social media have depicted a healthy version of Williams, with the big man focusing on mid-range jump shooting.
We’ve seen Williams peeling off screens, rolling hard toward the nail, and simply cutting toward his spot. Gym workouts are often fickle. These are NBA players we’re talking about — they’re supposed to knock down shots when they’re open. So, it’s hard to gauge how much stock we should be putting into the latest workout videos, other than it’s awesome that Williams is finally able to maximize an off-season rather than using it to recover from injury or surgery.
There is a reason to be excited about Williams working on his mid-range game, though. Under Joe Mazzulla, Boston’s big men are often tasked with working on the perimeter as part of a five-out system. That style of play is fine for Al Horford, and Kristaps Porzingis will have no issues adapting, either. However, Williams isn’t a perimeter scorer. Instead, Williams does his work within four feet of the rim, primarily as a roll man or lob threat.
Due to Mazzulla’s offensive principles, Williams leaned on his passing skills last season, as that allowed him to remain a threat when operating in short-roll actions.
“With as much attention as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum get in handoffs and pick-and-roll actions, I do think there is opportunity for Rob to expand out 2-to-3 feet with the short rolls,” Aaron Miller told NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg during a recent interview. “Or maybe when they’re getting double-teamed to put it on the ground, find an open teammate in the corner.”
We also saw Williams run pick-and-pop actions, which also relied on him making high-level passing reads to set up his teammates.
And then, there was some low-post facilitation.
But what if Williams could also provide some scoring in some of those possessions? By having a reliable mid-range jumper, defenses wouldn’t be able to help off Williams as they attempt to shut down the passing lanes.
“[Jayson Tatum is] mad at Rob when he isn’t taking shots,” Miller told NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg. “And he is mad at Rob — not mad, but holding him accountable — when he isn’t taking shots and when he isn’t being a threat or looking at the goal…Because, like I said, it’ll open up other opportunities for [Tatum and Brown].”
When watching the above clip, note how deep the Golden State Warriors' defense drops. Draymond Green is closer to the restricted area than he is to Williams. There’s no fear that Williams could take a couple of dribbles and flow into a jumper. As such, Golden State focuses on taking away passing lanes and keeping guys in front of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. A back cut from Al Horford is what eventually provides Williams with a passing angle; he hits a high-low entry over the top of the defense — a risky move.
It’s possessions such as this where Williams limited shooting ability becomes negative to Mazzulla’s offensive system. If a team has to account for the big man being more aggressive with his own shot, they can’t opt to sag off him, which in turn ensures there will be additional space for cutters and off-ball screening actions.
Robert Williams III in the gym.— Rob Greene (@RobGreeneNBA) July 13, 2023
Brad Stevens said during the Celtics’ contest on ESPN last night that this is the healthiest summer Timelord has had in a long time. Boston is looking forward to Rob building off of those great spirits. pic.twitter.com/x9GtwURtf1
Williams could also make a big impact as a potential jump-shooter on the interior. Last season, we saw the bouncy big man receive the rock in promising areas of the floor, only for him to redirect it rather than face up and attack.
With a full off-season to work on his middies, along with developing a floater game, Williams could elevate his offensive gravity in new ways. An important aspect to note here is that should Williams begin knocking down jumpers and floaters, he will be putting less stress on his body. Dunking is an explosive movement, along with the impact of landing back onto the court. For a player who has dealt with knee and back issues during his young career, limiting his body's exposure to consistent explosive movements could be key in maintaining availability throughout the regular season.
Furthermore, if Williams is exploding less on offense, he will have more in the tank to protect the rim, either as a dropping big or a weakside helper in the roamer role he excelled in during the 2021-22 season under Ime Udoka. When healthy, Rob Williams is a ceiling raiser for the Celtics.
If Williams can add another dimension to his offensive game and lighten the load on his knees and back because of it, the Celtics could have one of their most impactful players available throughout the season. Williams’ primary skillset will always mean he’s viewed as a dunker, rim-runner, and lob threat.
However, evolution is what extends a career, and for a player with his injury history, finding new ways to be effective now could be what keeps him in the league later.