Boston Celtics: Robert Williams is emerging as a legitimate star

Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics are the hottest team in the NBA right now. Winners of eight straight, the Celtics have finally gone on a long-awaited run to vaunt themselves back up the Eastern Conference standings into the number 6 seed for the time being,

While the validity of the win streak can be questioned a bit, with the teams Boston has been beating being either awful or severely undermanned, this is a great prospect for the C’s. For much of the first half of the season, it felt like this team was treading water, alternating some promising highs with some truly dreadful lows. However, one solid win streak could change the fate of their season, and out of nowhere, they have put it together.

Much of the season has revolved around the Boston Celtics star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. There have been a billion questions about them, such as whether they want to even play together, whether they have enough help, or whether the front office wants to get them more help, and it seemed like the chatter surrounding the two could end up destroying their partnership.

The goal has been to bring in enough talent to help the two youngsters lead Boston to it’s next title, whether it be through a deep bench or adding another star to pair with them. While neither seemed tenable thanks to a tight salary cap situation, both could actually end up coming to fruition. The bench was been shored up at the Trade Deadline, but the more encouraging prospect is that Robert Williams has looked like the third star the Celtics have been looking for.

Robert Williams emergence could reshape the Boston Celtics future

Williams has always had loads of potential as a deadly paint presence on both ends of the floor, but his first two seasons in Boston didn’t really get his career off on the right foot. Williams struggled to stay on the court, as he battled injuries and inconsistent playing time during his first couple of seasons. He also had a couple of issues with being late or missing team events, which subsequently earned the nickname “Time Lord” which has stuck to this point.

Williams’ potential began to come to life last season, as he carved out a consistent role off the bench behind Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson. Williams played so well that he necessitated the team trade Theis out of Boston so that he could enter the starting lineup. Now Theis was brought back in to backup Williams this season at the deadline, but that’s besides the point.

In his first full season as a starter, Williams has been pretty much as advertised. He’s a superb vertical threat on both offense (10 points per game on 73.2 percent shooting) and defense (his 2.2 blocks per game is the third best in the league). While his game is a bit one dimensional, you cannot forget about him at all, because if you do, he’s typically going to respond with a loud dunk or block.

The Time Lord has been a perfect fit because he gives Tatum, Brown, and the rest of the team for that matter, space to operate on both sides of the ball. Offensively, teams can’t ever ignore Williams because of his ability to corral lob passes and put them home. Defensively, the rest of the team can rest assured that Williams is holding down the paint, allowing them to be a bit more aggressive at the perimeter.

This isn’t to say Williams is the perfect player, but in a league where a lot players often try to do too much, Williams knows his role, and he goes out and executes it every night. He’s not going to bury threes at an absurd clip, and he’s not a threat off the dribble (that is if he even dribbles in the first place), but the team doesn’t need him to do that, so he doesn’t.

During the Boston Celtics recent win streak, Williams has pretty much been a shoe-in for a double-double in points and rebounds. As the ball movement has increased in the offense, Williams has seen more action on alley-oop passes, and he’s scoring pretty much all of them. He’s also gone toe-to-toe against some top opponents defensively, as he was primarily responsible for shutting down Nikola Jokic in the fourth quarter during their win over the Denver Nuggets.

This is only Williams’ first season starting, so there’s still some room for improvement, but the early signs are encouraging. Williams also has excellent passing abilities when called upon (he posted a 11 PTS/10 REB/10 AST line against the Phoenix Suns earlier this season) and they could use him more as an initiator from the top of the key when the offense is struggling. If he could develop a consistent midrange jumper too, he would develop into a real offensive threat.

On defense, Williams is a really solid interior defender, but he’s been making some real strides across the rest of his game. Opponents try to screen Williams onto their primary ballhandler in order to get a mismatch, but Williams length allows him to play a bit farther off before baiting the ballhandler into what’s usually a contested three pointer. He’s still a bit quick to jump around in the paint from time-to-time, but for the most part he has been much more disciplined this season.

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It’s early, but Williams has shown some really promising signs of his development this season. I’m not saying this should prevent the Celtics from going out and pursuing another star this offseason, but they may not have to if Williams continues to improve. He’s been a key part of the Boston Celtics recent success, and if he keeps things up, he could cement himself as the third star alongside Tatum and Brown for the foreseeable future.