Don’t Sleep On the Return of Robert Williams for the Celtics

Although the Boston Celtics’ big man rotation has exceeded expectations to this point in the 2019-20 season, the team could undoubtedly use a bit more depth at the position. Injuries have been all too common for Boston this season, and the big men haven’t been an exception. Daniel Theis, the player the Celtics have relied on the most for an inside presence, has missed six games, while valuable bench piece Enes Kanter has missed twelve.

​​The Celtics, however, are about to receive a much-needed bench addition that may even end up cracking the playoff rotation. Robert Williams has been dealing with a hip injury since December 9th, but his return to the rotation will likely make Boston even stronger defensively. In 19 games this season, Williams is averaging 2.8 blocks and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes – highly respectable statistics for a player as raw as he was coming into the season. On average, Williams was only played 14.2 minutes each contest before injuring his hip, so his 1.1 blocks per game and 0.9 steals per game don’t have the same holistic impact that his per-36 numbers suggest – but his play in limited minutes has been promising.

​​The advanced numbers tell an even greater story – one in which Williams owns a defensive rating of 97, putting him on par with Giannis Antetokounmpo at the top of the league. Williams is obviously not the defender that Antetokounmpo is, but the fact that he posted a 97 overall defensive rating through his first 19 games of the season is undeniably impressive. 

​Offensively, Williams has a long ways to go. He’s not particularly crafty and relies almost entirely on his quickness and ridiculous vertical leap for put-backs and lobs. Despite his struggles, however, he has a lot of potential on this end of the court as well. His elite athleticism allows for some easy points around the basket, and his jumping ability alone makes him a lob threat at all times. While he can’t space the floor like Theis and lacks the offensive touch of Kanter, he converts on the field goals he does attempt at a high rate, connecting on 67.3% of his 49 field goal attempts so far this season.

Williams will not likely break into Brad Stevens’ playoff rotation by the time April rolls around. Boston will use a seven or eight-man rotation, with a ninth and final player being utilized infrequently throughout the postseason run. The ninth spot will likely come down to Robert Williams and Grant Williams – and while Robert Williams has a lot more defensive potential, Grant Williams has already shown a lot more on the offensive side of the ball to go along with solid defense of his own. Even if Robert Williams doesn’t crack the playoff rotation, Boston being able to utilize him in bursts for the remainder of the regular season could have significant implications for their place in the postseason standings.

All statistics obtained via
Chris Szagola/AP Photo

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