When it comes to the greatest Celtics of all time, the most often talked about are Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Paul Pierce, and too many more to list in one paragraph. The Celtics had reliable centers who helped lead their team during the earlier decades of the NBA. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Bill Russell led the franchise to 11 NBA championships. In the 1970s, the Celtics had MVP and All-Star center Dave Cowens. Robert Parish anchored their defense in the 1980s with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale; as a nine-time All-Star, his most memorable accomplishment is playing in the most games ever in NBA history. However, once you get to the modern era, there is a lack of great Celtic centers. Shaquille O’Neal, arguably the most dominant big man in NBA history was on the Celtics, but he was fat and out of shape when he was there. Kendrick Perkins was decent, but he isn’t a Hall-of-Famer or even an All-Star. However, the Celtics have a new rising star who could be one of the greatest centers to ever play for the Celtics, and his name is Robert Williams.
Williams attended high school at North Caddo Magnet in Los Angeles, California, where he would grow into a four-star prospect and the number 51 recruit in his class. After signing to play Division One basketball with Texas A&M, Williams spent two years there developing his game. During his first season, he was named to the Southeastern (SEC) All-Rookie team. He was also named to the SEC All-Defensive team, and won the Defensive Player of the Year Award. The next season, he would be named to the All-SEC first team and SEC All-Defensive team, while once again winning the award. With averages during his two years of 11.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game, the Boston Celtics took a chance on him and selected him with the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Williams is also known as the Time Lord, because of his timekeeping faux pas. Although he has never averaged over 30 minutes per game since being drafted by the team in 2018, Williams has only started in 16 games so far in his career. During the month of March (2021), despite only playing 23 minutes per game on average, Williams averaged 10.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 2.2 steals, and 2.8 assists per game on 71% shooting from the field. These are great numbers for a young center who is coming off the bench behind Tristan Thompson, and nearly rival those of his college self.
What really put Williams onto the national stage, however, was his performance in the 2021 NBA Playoffs against the juggernaut Brooklyn Nets. Since the Nets have three MVPs on their team as well as former All-Stars (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), everyone is expecting them to easily cruise by the Celtics (myself included). However, Williams made a name for himself in Game 1 by blocking nine shots! Nine! This is a record for the Celtics that has never been broken, and even if Williams amounted to nothing for the rest of his career (which I highly doubt), he would still have a record in NBA history.
Take a look at this possession here against Kyrie Irving, and how masterfully Williams toys with his opponent’s brains.
Kyrie Irving (#11) is being guarded by Williams on this position, and as you can clearly see from the positioning of his foot, he is planning to make a move to get past Williams. Durant is on the side if Irving needs help, but the paint has been cleared out, so this is an isolation play for Irving.
As you can see, Irving has blown by Robert Williams, drawing help in the paint. However, this is no problem for Irving, as he is a master of finishing through contact. Assuming Williams is mostly out of the play, Irving will go to the left to try and confuse his defender. However, Williams just made a great fake, one that Irving completely fell for.
Marcus Smart (#36) comes over to try and draw the charge, but Irving hangs in the air and goes by him. Unfortunately, Williams saw everything that happened, and now, as Irving is hanging in the air, he can easily block the shot, and does so with ease.
Williams is 6’8″ (the same height as forward Jayson Tatum), but has a wingspan of 7’6″. He can play power forward (although he normally plays center), and he is the perfect compliment in the post for the Celtics. What was once a game of giants has become a game of guards and wings who play fast, efficient basketball and stretch the floor. Williams is very athletic and will not hinder a fast-paced Celtics team who couldn’t be more anxious to make another championship run.
Williams will undoubtedly be a highly regarded center in the coming years, and may help propel the Celtics to a championship or two. With that being said, Tacko Fall will also undoubtedly help the Celtics, and if Williams moves over to power forward, I can’t see any Celtics opponent ever scoring in the paint.
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