Is it time to unleash the Time Lord? Robert Williams projects to be the exact type of player that would ideally compliment the Boston Celtics’ starting unit. It’s time, Celtics fans. It’s finally time…
The Boston Celtics starting five this coming season is just about a foregone conclusion. NBC Sports Boston has even run commercials promoting its coverage of the coming season by introducing Celtics fans to their new starting unit, consisting of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Enes Kanter.
The Celtics organization owns 20% of NBC Sports Boston, so it’s a safe bet that they have the inside track on who’ll be starting. I’m taking their word for it, anyway.
However, starting Kanter at center could lead to a dearth of opportunities on the offensive end of the floor for the other starters, given Kanter’s notorious aggressiveness with his shot.
But if not Kanter, then who should start in his place? And does it really make that much of difference, so long as it’s not him?
From Texas Tech… number forty-four… Robert Williams!!
That’s whose name I hope to hear Boston Celtics public service announcer Eddie Palladino announcing to fans at the TD Garden as the Celtics starting center during player introductions this season.
Let me tell you why…
I have already detailed at length my concerns about starting Kanter in a previous article. Suffice it to say, I think he shoots the basketball far more than any player should, especially one who is slated to join such high-volume scorers as those constituting the rest of our starting lineup.
With Kanter, there simply won’t be enough shots to go around. There may still not be enough, even with him beginning games on the bench.
The fallout from this would be deserving players left without corresponding opportunities, resulting again in a miserable group of players delivering for the fans a miserable set of results.
In short, Kanter is a shoot-first, rebounding savant who can’t play a lick of defense. Luckily he can stretch the floor to an extent with his outside shooting.
The Celtics starting unit would benefit most from a pass-first, rebounding savant who can protect the rim, effectively switch onto smaller and quicker players at the top of the key, plus stretch the floor.
Robert Williams might not fit this description perfectly, but the truth is Boston Celtics fans, he’s by far the closest thing you’re going to get.
It’s time… for the Time Lord.
Williams naturally excels on the defensive end of the floor, and has done so consistently dating back to his freshman year of college.
Prowling the paint for the Texas A&M Aggies beginning in 2016, Williams earned SEC defensive player of the year honors his freshman year. He registered 2.5 blocks per game that season, while playing only a modest 25 minutes per game.
He followed up his impressive freshman campaign by being named SEC defensive player of the year again in 2017, averaging a very slight uptick in BPG over a very small reduction in court-time. Williams’ excellence as a rim-protector was a skill that immediately translated for him from his college career to the NBA.
Despite only appearing in 32 games last season with the Boston Celtics, and averaging only 8.8 minutes per game (that’s just 282 minutes played on the season), Williams was able to make his defensive presence felt nearly every second that he spent on the floor. In total, he tallied a whopping 40 blocks.
For comparison’s sake, now former Celtic Al Horford, often lauded for his defensive prowess during his tenure with the team, played a total of 1,972 minutes last season, or about seven times as much as Williams, and totaled 86 blocks — just over twice as many as Williams.
Seven times the run. Only about two times the blocks. Let that sink in for a second…
And that’s no knock on Horford, whose defense last year was exceptional. Williams’ block-rate was simply other-worldly. It similarly eclipsed that of other well-known, defensive-minded bigs across the league.
Take two-time NBA first-team all-defensive center Deandre Jordan, for instance. Last season, he totaled 2,049 minutes of floor time and 73 blocks. In comparison to Williams, that’s again about seven times the amount of game action, but this go round’, it’s well under two times the blocks.
Extrapolation aside, Williams’ per thirty-six minutes projections are nothing short of astounding. They suppose that if Williams had played the kind of role Horford and Jordan had, that Williams would have averaged an incredible 5.1 blocks per game. A player has not averaged that many blocks per game in the modern NBA era.
And only once since blocks began being recorded as an official statistic for the 1973-74 NBA season, has a player averaged as many or more blocks per game. That was when two-time defensive player of the year, five-time member of a NBA all defense team, four-time NBA blocks leader, and all-star, Mark Eaton, averaged over five blocks per game during the 1985-86 season.
But taking a look over the past 20 years or so of NBA action, beginning with the 2001-02 NBA season, no player has averaged more than four blocks per game. Serge Ibaka (aka “Eee-blocka”) did so in 2011-12. Hassan Whiteside, before he became a pud, also did so during the 2015-16 season.
Even at this early stage in his career, Williams has shown signs of capably defending nearly all five positions on the court. His tremendous gifts in both size and athleticism are perhaps the biggest reasons as to why. There just aren’t many players in the NBA who are as tall, can jump as high, are as lengthy, and can move as quickly as Williams.
If while on defense, Williams occasionally struggles to pickup smaller, quicker players, it’s because of a slow uptake in recognition rather than a lack of ability — more a lack of experience than anything. Improvements in this area will come with more court-time and as Williams matures. Recall that entering last season, he was just twenty-one years old.
Williams is also a more than capable rebounder. In only his first NBA season, his per 36 minutes projections suggest that he would have averaged double-figures in rebounds in a role more typical of that of a starting center.
Then, in flashes, he surprised many Boston Celtics fans last year, showing off his sneakily good passing instincts. During summer league play he would build upon his budding reputation as an assist-threat, averaging a couple of assists in just 19 minutes per game.
As it turns out, Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge put us on notice that Williams was “a good-passer” back when Williams was drafted 27th overall in 2018, after an unexpected slide outside of the lottery or its immediate aftermath.
The weakest aspect of his game is unquestionably his outside-shooting. During Williams two seasons at Texas A&M, he shot a dreadful 54% from the free-throw line and wasn’t known as a player who could stretch the floor one bit.
However, he has greatly improved upon his college free-throw percentage since entering the pros. Playing in the NBA, Williams shot 60% from the charity stripe, and in the G-league, where he received many more opportunities, he shot a very respectable 71%, for a player his size.
Might we see Williams knocking down 15-footers this year, providing some of that precious spacing Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens would seem to value more than his own children? The progress Williams has already made with his shot suggests we could.
He also offers the Celtics far more upside than the other options the team has at the center position. Being as young as he is, Williams’ game is still improving. Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis, and the mystery man, Vincent Poirier, on the other hand, have all already reached their full potentials.
Unless Poirier wows the coaches during training camp and the preseason, the Boston Celtics should be starting Williams.
An investment in him now could pay dividends both immediately and down the road. Given sufficient court time to receive all of the benefits that experience has to offer a young player like himself, Williams very reasonably projects to become an elite defender, strong rebounder, and an overall well-rounded player.
He may very well be your answer at the center position for both the present and the future, Celtics fans.
So, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now (and at least a half-dozen more times to myself, if to no one else),… it’s time… for the… Time Lord!!
Thanks for reading.
What do you think? Do you agreed that it’s… time? If not, who should start at center? I’d love to read about what you think in the comments section.
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