How Robert Williams carved out his role for Celtics despite extended absence

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Although the Celtics have done well without him, the timing of Robert Williams’ injury wasn’t ideal for the big man. He was looking more comfortable by the day — something his teammates started to notice well before the injury.

“Last year we had Al (Horford), you had (Aron) Baynes, that’s some really big shoes to fill,” Marcus Smart told WEEI.com the day before Williams’ extended absence began. “Rob was just trying to figure out where he fit in, and it was tough. Just for the simple fact that you got Baynes shooting threes and Al shooting threes, and that’s not Rob. Rob is more of a traditional (big): protect the rim, roll, set screens and get to the rim. Things like that. He was trying to figure out where to fit in. So, he was a little less comfortable than he is now.

“But (in) the offseason, he put in an incredible amount of work and became more comfortable. I think we all see it. Just the way he’s able to time shots and protect the rim. The way he’s able to guard guards when he gets switched off and keep guys in front of him. He wasn’t doing that last year.”

Semi Ojeleye echoed Smart’s sentiment about Williams’ comfortability. Jaylen Brown feels Williams matured from 2018-19 to 2019-20, which, in the end, has allowed the center to settle in.

“Going into this year, I felt like my voice was heard more,” Williams told WEEI.com. “Coaches were looking for me to say things, which helped me be more comfortable. My teammates trusted me — listening to what each other says — (that) obviously added a high level of confidence, too.”

Now, Williams admits the injury set him back in some ways. But that hasn’t altered his feeling about his teammates or his standing on the team.

“Still feel comfortable. Got to bond with these guys,” he said. “You know, we cuss each other out on a daily basis. But we’re able to receive it, give good feedback — positive feedback — and just take it as brotherly love and not get hurt about it. I feel like they give everyone a platform to speak up, be more comfortable.”

And that chemistry is vital for the Celtics’ success. 

Sure, it’s important on the base level that players should understand and trust one another. But the structure of the Celtics’ defense is reliant on each player knowing their teammates’ capabilities and deficiencies as well as their own.

“I know JB (is) quick, I know he could recover (where) most guards can’t. Just knowing everybody’s strengths, know the personnel,” Williams said. “Just like these guys got to know I’m a shot-blocker and they got help when they get beat, so they can peel back to other guys.”

Having another player who can protect the rim, at the rim, is something the Celtics have needed. Daniel Theis is blocking 1.3 shots per game on 23.5 minutes per night, but after him, Jayson Tatum has averaged 0.9 on 34.5 minutes per game and Enes Kanter averages 0.8 blocks per game on 18.2 minutes per game.

Williams was only playing 14.1 minutes per game before his injury but he was averaging 1.1 blocks per game. And he moves around much better than Kanter.

That being said, Time Lord thought his fellow Celtics big men have done well in his absence, despite the fact they’ve been questioned so much.

“I feel like our bigs were protecting the rim great. I feel like our bigs are doing a great job,” he said. “Obviously, I want to be back out there, add another threat as a big. But I feel like my guys held it down pretty good.”

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