Sitting at 25-25, it’s safe to say the Boston Celtics season hasn’t gone as expected so far. Despite sitting at just .500, the Celtics still could easily find themselves in the #4 seed, as they are only a game out despite currently sitting in the #8 seed. While the Celtics have looked pretty bad for long stretches of the season, there is reason for optimism based off of their recent play. While getting back their starting guard duo of Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart has helped to an extent, the insertion of Rob Williams into the starting lineup seems to have been a game changer for the Celtics, and could possibly help them make a surge up in the standings over the last 22 games of the regular season.
Williams has been elevated to the starting role ever since Daniel Theis was dealt to the Chicago Bulls at the trade deadline, and in the five games Williams has started since then, the team has gone 4-1. Granted some of these wins have come against subpar competition, it doesn’t change the fact that Williams has changed how the Celtics look on both ends of the court. Williams has added an element of explosiveness on both offense and defense that none of the Celtics other bigs can currently offer them. Williams looked like the best big man the Celtics had for most of the season anyways, and with Theis out of the picture, Williams has grabbed the starting spot and run with it.
Let’s start with the defensive side of the ball first. Williams is still figuring some things out defensively, and occasionally will miss an assignment, but he has a knack for being in the mix on plays in the paint constantly. Over his past five games, Williams is averaging 2.6 blocks per game and 1.4 steals per game. He also is easily one the best rebounders on the team, as he is a double-double threat in each game played at this point. Williams offers the potential to make game changing plays defensively, even if he messes up on assignments from time to time. He had a couple of huge defensive plays during the Celtics furious fourth quarter comeback against the New Orleans Pelicans, which proved vital to getting them back in the game. Williams blocking ability also allows his teammates players to focus more on the perimeter, which has killed the Celtics so far this season. Shoring up the interior will help the perimeter as well, and that’s what Williams impact could prove to do if he keeps up his current level of play.
While Williams has helped on defense, his impact has been much more prominent on the offensive side of things. Williams has been contributing in all aspects of the game, which has been a huge help for a Celtics team that has looked flat at times. Starting on the glass, Williams is averaging 3.8 offensive rebounds per game over his starting stretch, which has been a huge help for the offense. Second chance points can have huge impacts on the game, and Williams impact on the offensive glass hasn’t gone unnoticed.
While getting offensive rebounds is something that Tristian Thompson has also done this season, Williams differentiates himself by not always going for a putback right after, which is a testament to Williams playmaking abilities. The Celtics have struggled to replace Gordon Hayward’s playmaking tendencies this season, and Williams has stepped up to become one of the best passers on the team, from the center position nonetheless. Williams passing was on full display against the Houston Rockets, as he racked up eight assists on the night. Williams huge dunks will often get the most attention, but his ability to make contributions in every aspect of the game is what’s made him such a valuable commodity to the Celtics so far.
Speaking of huge dunks, Williams also offers the Celtics a much more consistent paint presence. Williams will typically shoot lights out off of a steady diet of layups and dunks, but also can hit a midrange jumper when called upon. Whereas the Celtics new bigs Mo Wagner and Luke Kornet can hit threes as well, Williams functions as a vertical paint presence who can create lanes for himself and others to get to the rim. There’s a reason Williams gets so open on some of his alley oop dunks, and that’s because defenders have to overcommit on the ballhandler, leaving Williams wide open. It’s similar to what would happen last season with Theis at the center position, but teams began ignoring Theis because they could get back and disrupt his shot. That isn’t the case with Williams, and it’s beginning to become a problem for opposing defenses.
Williams addition to the Celtics starting lineup has immediately changed this teams tenor. The explosive center will make some mistakes, but he more than makes up for it with his dynamic play on both ends of the court. Williams should hold onto the starting position, even with Tristan Thompson set to return from COVID protocols shortly. Back at the .500 mark, the Celtics can now look to make a run back up the standings with their do-it-all center helping out Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
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