By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
For Robert Williams III, there were few better landing spots in the NBA. The uber-athletic former Texas A&M big man, once thought to be a lottery pick, fell like a rock in the 2018 NBA Draft. And Danny Ainge decided to take the plunge for what others are describing as a potential steal at No. 27.
There’s little doubt that Williams has NBA-ready skills on defense, particularly with his shot-blocking. His 7-foot-6 wingspan and leaping ability give him big-time potential as a low-post defender. For a Celtics frontcourt in need of rim protection and rebounding, Williams fills those needs immediately.
But there’s a reason Williams fell so far in the first round, despite having lottery-level talent. And he arrives to the Celtics with an opportunity to overcome the criticisms of him as a player.
It’s also impossible to ignore the proverbial red flag.
Williams was suspended for the first two games of the 2017-18 season for the Aggies, for an undisclosed violation of university policy. It isn’t publicly known what exactly Williams did to get himself suspended, which will only intensify the speculation over the nature of his violation.
Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy didn’t shed any light on what Williams did in his statement at the time, but it at least doesn’t sound quite as bad as a straight-up criminal act. The hope is that it was, at worst, some kind of substance abuse. Maybe he smoked a little weed? But it’s unfair to speculate to that degree. All that’s known is he did something that the school deemed suspension-worthy, despite being a star player.
“Unfortunately, young people make mistakes,” Kennedy said in a statement. “We will handle this matter internally and move on as a program.”
Whatever Williams did to violate Texas A&M rules, and get himself suspended as the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Ainge and the Celtics probably found out. Clearly, they felt comfortable making the pick, despite never even working him out.
“We do our own background checks,” Ainge told reporters after the draft on Thursday. “We don’t really read what everybody else says. But, you know, when you say people are projected, that was before they even went through the draft process. So I never really believe that anyway.”
The two-time All-SEC center doesn’t come without on-court concerns. His scouting reports at NBADraft.net describe him as a player with a “tendency to leave you wanting more.” He “disappears for stretches of games, particularly offensively”. He’s had his competitiveness questioned. He’s a poor free-throw shooter. But he’s also described as a player who could realize his full potential if he landed with the right organization and/or coaching staff – so he’s arguably in the best possible situation.
For a moment, it appeared that Williams’ Celtics tenure wasn’t off to the best start. The team had trouble tracking him down before his introductory conference call, but eventually did after what was apparently a miscommunication. He’s expected to make his call on Friday. Williams spent draft night not at the actual draft, but at a Louisiana-based Buffalo Wild Wings with friends and family.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is hopeful that, when Williams does arrive to start working with the Celtics, he will learn from the example set by both veterans like Al Horford and young, hard-working stars like Jayson Tatum.
“I think the biggest key in the environment is, he’s got to come to work,” Stevens told reporters after the draft. “So next Friday when he gets here and does his introductory press conference … all the hoopla will be done. It’s time to get to work.”
Guess we now have to worry about whether Williams will arrive on time next Friday? Momentarily going AWOL when he was supposed to do his conference call won’t exactly inspire confidence. But Williams already had hurdles to overcome, and opportunities to prove his critics wrong and make other teams regret passing on him. He’s arguably in the best spot to make that happen.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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