For the first time during this 2022/23 campaign, Joe Mazzulla, and the Boston Celtics coaching staff pulled the trigger on starting Robert Williams III with Marcus Smart unavailable due to injury. The former Texas A&M big man played 23 minutes against the stubborn Chicago Bulls, snatching seven rebounds, blocking two shots, and netting six points. Since Williams III has returned, Boston has posted the fourth-best defense in the NBA, holding two quality offenses under 100 points in two out of the last three games.
Last season, with Williams III in the lineup alongside Boston’s core three (Smart, Tatum, Brown) and either Al Horford or Grant Williams, the Cs had a net rating over 24, and a defensive rating under 96. Those lineups possessed the two highest net ratings of any five around the league that played 19 or more contests together during the regular season together.
The Louisiana native has accumulated the best net rating on the Boston Celtics over the last 15 games of anyone that has played more than 3.5 minutes per game. He is shooting a mind-blowing 83.8 percent from the field since his return, converting on 31 of his 37 total shots from the field so far. His shooting percentage from the field since his return is the highest for any player in the NBA for any player that has participated in more than five minutes of action.
His ability to attract so much attention from the defense due to his lob threat inside completely changes the Boston Celtics offense. Each time someone drives into the teeth of the defense, the opposition has a choice to make when Williams III is in. Stop the ball, or guard the inevitable lob. Either way, Boston is going to get a straightforward look at the basket. So far in just 10 contests, we have seen him take Paul George off the dribble on the perimeter, and grab 15 rebounds in just 21 minutes against the fourth-best rebounding team in the NBA through early January.
Jayson Tatum summed it up pretty well, stating:
"“[We] want him healthy. And want to be on the floor with him at the same time as much as possible. So, you know, I’m gonna start, so I would like Rob to start, but, you know, whatever’s best for the team, he’ll do that. And, you know, as much as I can be on the court with him as possible, you know, I think [that] makes us better.”"
What Robert Williams III contributed to the Boston Celtics defense
On the defensive side of things, Williams III has made his presence back in the association known. The apprehension on the faces of many wings when they see the athletic six-foot-nine-inch big with a seven-foot-six inch wingspan in the paint gives Boston an automatic mental advantage that causes chaos and plenty of fast break points for a Cs team filled with pace.
Except for maybe the “Greek Freak”, there are not that many players in the league that could have pulled off that block on a 3-pointer that would subsequently lead to an easy layup on the other end in San Antonio. Mazzulla and his coaching staff are slowly bringing Williams III back into action and who can blame them with his injury history?
After his last two outings, it is clear he is ready to take on an increased minutes load going forward. Nobody knew what kind of player Boston was going to be getting after another injury blow to the 25-year-old, but right out of the gate, he has been the instant impact type of player this ball club desperately needed with Luke Kornet taking on more minutes than he could handle. The Boston Celtics came out firing against a talented Chicago team that had beaten them twice before earlier in the season. Before Grant Williams subbed in for Williams III at the 7:24 mark, Boston had a seven-point lead with the Texas A&M product netting four points to go along with two rebounds, and a sensational block on Ayo Dosunmu.
Is this going to be the first start of more to come with two crucial games coming up later this week? Who knows, but what is clear is that this ball club has a much higher ceiling on both ends of the floor with him in the game. A +8.9 net rating in less than 20 minutes so far this season tells the whole story. Spreading the floor is something that has worked for Boston with five shooters being on the floor at all times over the first few months of the campaign, but with Williams III, there is both a rebounding and big-play threat inside the paint at all times. It is not the points that he brings on a nightly basis that is counted on, it is the ability to make everyone’s job around him considerably easier that allows him to be one of the most influential players this league has to offer.