Timelord Quickly Flourishing in Elevated Role


In his first five starts of the season, Robert Williams has quickly confirmed what many Celtics fans suspected for months: Boston’s most effective big man is the Timelord.

With Tristan Thompson still sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols and Daniel Theis traded to Chicago, Williams has flourished in his new starting role.

Contributing across the board, Williams is averaging 11.8 points (.727 FG%), 10.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.6 blocks, 1.4 steals, and +9 plus/minus as a starter.

More importantly, the Celtics are 4-1 in those games with an average win margin of 13 points.

On Friday night against the Rockets, Williams posted career-highs in points (20) and assists (8) while converting 9-9 FG. Williams is making a strong case to secure the Celtics’ starting center role for the foreseeable future.

“I’m just feeling great, honestly,” Williams told reporters on Friday. “Obviously getting way more comfortable with more minutes I play. I feel like if it stays that way I’m going to get better.”

At age 23, Williams is still ironing out some rough edges. But he’s trending in the right direction and appears ready to emerge as one of the biggest steals in recent NBA Draft history.

Sky-High Potential

Draft experts initially had Williams pegged as a possible lottery pick after his freshman season at Texas A&M.

His terrific length (7’6” wingspan), athleticism and defensive prowess made Williams a consensus four-star recruit in high school and ranked as the top prospect in Louisiana.

But following his sophomore season with the Aggies, Williams ultimately slipped to the Celtics’ 27th overall pick in the 2018 Draft due to some concerns about his work ethic.

Regardless of the criticism, Williams dominated defensively at the NCAA level and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in each of his two collegiate seasons.

Early NBA Struggles

Danny Ainge and the Celtics clearly made the right call by drafting Williams, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

After being drafted, Williams made a poor first impression by oversleeping and missing his introductory press conference. A couple of weeks later, he missed a flight to Boston and the team’s first Summer League practice.

Williams says the missed flight and a subsequent conversation he had with Brad Stevens about limited opportunities served as a much-needed wake-up call.

Now in his third season, Williams is living up to his star potential. The 6’8” center has blossomed into a dynamic small-ball defensive anchor and playmaker who routinely throws down vicious alley-oop slams.

“Rob is special,” Jayson Tatum told reporters after Friday’s win. “I love playing with him… His presence just makes a difference when he’s out there.”

Williams credits current and former Celtics teammates for mentoring him. He developed a close relationship with Theis and was upset when Theis was traded, even though it opened the door for Williams to become the starter.

Staying Healthy

Williams has quashed concerns about his work ethic this season, but there are still some questions about his long-term health.

Shortly after he was drafted, Williams was diagnosed with popliteal artery entrapment syndrome in both legs. The degenerative vascular disease can restrict blood flow to the lower legs, causing pain and cramping. He may eventually require surgery if his condition worsens.

Furthermore, Williams missed nearly three months last season due to a left hip bone edema. He briefly reinjured the hip this season and says it still occasionally flares up and becomes sore.

Taking all factors into consideration, it is understandable why Ainge and Stevens were hesitant to give Williams a bigger role.

But if Timelord can remain healthy, he will continue swatting shots and patrolling the paint as the best rim protector Stevens has ever coached in Boston.

Elite Defensive Playmaker

Williams is incredibly impactful on defense thanks to his athleticism and ferocious shot-blocking ability. Consistently contesting and altering opponents’ shots, Williams is averaging 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes this season.

Excluding Tacko Fall‘s limited minutes, Williams leads Boston in blocks per 36 by a wide margin. Newly-acquired Luke Kornet has the next-highest mark with 2.1 swats per 36.

Williams has also looked increasingly comfortable running the pick-and-roll while developing into a terrific passer and offensive rebounder.

Boston’s Most Dominant Big

Williams’ wide range of contributions makes him one of the few players in the NBA who could possibly record a quadruple-double.

In his first start of the season, Williams had a career-high six assists in a win against the Bucks. On Friday, Williams set a new career-high with eight assists. Neither Thompson nor Theis has ever recorded more than six assists in a single game.

Similarly, Williams blocked five shots in his first start. Then back on March 11, Williams blocked six shots (for the second time in his career). Thompson and Theis have never blocked more than five shots in a game.

In his second start of the season, Williams yanked down 14 rebounds. It was the third time this season Williams logged at least 14 boards while no other Celtic has had a single 14-rebound game this season.

Five starts may be a small sample size, but it’s not difficult to see that Williams has become Boston’s best big man.

Solid Depth in the Frontcourt

Ainge reportedly targeted both Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins in the buyout market, but failed to sign either of them. Regardless of any possible roster moves, Williams belongs in the Celtics starting lineup.

Stevens recently declined to answer whether Thompson will reclaim the starting role once he is cleared to play. But given Williams’ strong showing, it would be extremely difficult to relegate him back to the bench.

The Celtics play their best basketball with Williams on the court. It would have been interesting to see how good the Celtics could have been with Williams starting and Theis and/or Thompson coming off the bench.

Theis was beloved by Celtics players and fans for his hustle, determination, and overall willingness to take a physical beating every night against the league’s top big men.

The two new centers Ainge acquired at the deadline may not yet be as talented as Theis, but both Kornet and Moritz Wagner have made great first impressions.

Both players have demonstrated the ability to recreate some of Theis’ frontcourt energy and set effective screens. They each play solid defense, attack the glass, and knock down open jumpers. Kornet (7’2”) and Wagner (6’11”) are also now Boston’s tallest players not named Tacko.

The Celtics are stacked with young talent. As Ainge keeps building around his budding superstars in Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Williams should see his role and minutes continue to grow.

Assuming Williams continues to surge, then the Theis trade may prove to be a successful case of addition by subtraction. During the coming years, it is not crazy to think that Williams could eventually receive NBA All-Defensive Team recognition and Defensive Player of the Year consideration.

Williams has exploded onto the scene this season as one of the league’s best two-way, above-the-rim playmakers. Alongside Tatum and Brown, Boston’s exciting trio of rising stars has a very bright future.

Follow us on Twitter @CelticsLead for the latest Celtics news and insight. 

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About Jon Jacobson

NBA Content Writer and Multimedia Producer. Twitter: @Jon_NBA

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