By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Entering his third NBA season, the Celtics’ Robert Williams is clearly ready to take flight.
“I honestly feel like I’ll make a great jump this year for myself and also for my team,” Williams said Tuesday.
It’s exactly what you want to hear Williams, drafted by the Celtics with the No. 27 overall pick in 2018, say entering a season. It’s also what every athlete ever tends to say to begin a year. But after beginning his career buried behind Al Horford and Aron Baynes, and spending a good chunk of last year behind Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter, the opportunity to do just that is actually there for the 6-foot-8 big. Kanter’s gone (same for Vincent Poirier), and while Theis remains in the picture and Tristan Thompson was signed as championship-quality backup, Williams no longer sees a daunting roadblock in front of him.
“I feel like I’m around great guys to [make that jump], too,” Williams offered. “Bringing in Tristan, someone I can learn from easily, and learning stuff from Theis every day, I feel like they put me in a great position.”
It’s certainly helped that Williams has found his early practice reps, too, with Thompson on the shelf with a hamstring injury. (Thompson, signed to a two-year deal worth $19 million last month, is expected to miss most of training camp.)
And Williams has done his part to make those days count.
“I feel like the first few days of practice for me have been good,” said Williams. “I feel like I’ve been great vocally [and] I feel like I’m stepping up in that aspect; all around, conditioning, locking in on my teammates, slowing the game down, learning different scenarios. Just most of all, [I’m] keying in on what all my teammates’ strengths are, so I feel like I’m doing good.”
There’s still an obviously element of the unknown with Williams.
In action for just 61 games over his first two NBA seasons, Williams showed signs of breaking through in the Celtics’ second-round series against the Raptors in the Orlando bubble. Proving to be a game-changing presence in a seven-game war, Williams scored 38 points (on 18-for-20 shooting), collected 34 rebounds, and added five blocks in over 100 minutes of play. But when the Heat’s Bam Adebayo went into takeover mode during the third-round series between Boston and Miami, Williams was nowhere to be found, appearing in three games and totaling just over 27 minutes of action in all.
Just when you think you have a read on Williams, something happens.
But one thing has remained consistent throughout this experiment, according to Celtics coach Brad Steven, and that’s the Lousiana-born center’s commitment to becoming a stronger player for the C’s, with Stevens noting that Williams has always improved his game no matter his role or playing time.
“That’s one of the things that’s continued to give [Williams] a chance to make great strides,” Stevens said. “We’ve had good players [at center]; Theis had a good year and Kanter was a really good player in certain matchups. When you’re playing that one position, there’s less time to go around off it. It’s a credit to him that he’s improved regardless of circumstance.”
That said, Stevens doesn’t sound like he’s ready to sign off on Williams’ proclamation just yet.
“We’ve got good players [at center] this year, so we’ll see how it shakes out,” said Stevens.
In other words, that jump is going to have to be over the guys Williams is learning from in camp.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.