We know Robert Williams is physically a great jumper. The Celtics center has an explosive leaping ability that he can use to throw down dunks, grab rebounds and block shots.
Williams has shown that ability in flashes during his first two NBA seasons, but as he enters his third season, he has a real opportunity to break out and show it more consistently and in a bigger role. And he expects to do just that.
“I honestly feel like I’ll make a great jump this year, for myself but also for my team,” Williams said Tuesday. “Feel like I’m around great guys to do that, too. Bringing in Tristan [Thompson], he’s somebody I can learn from easily. Every day learning stuff from [Daniel] Theis, I feel like that’s put me in a great position too.”
Williams, affectionately called “Time Lord” by fans, was starting to establish himself as a regular part of the Celtics’ rotation early last year before his season was derailed by a hip injury that forced him to miss three months. He started to re-establish his role in the playoffs, though, especially against the Raptors in the second round, when he played 14 minutes per game, averaging 5.4 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that he’s been consistently impressed with two things from Williams: his ability to keep getting better regardless of whether he’s playing or how much, and his communication on defense.
“I always tell the story about Rob, that when Rob first got here, he had great people to learn from in Aron Baynes and [Al] Horford. And the next year when we were getting ready for summer league, [former assistant coach] Kara Lawson came up to me and said, ‘Man, I wish everyone talked like Rob,’” Stevens said.
“That was a reminder that people can improve, and drastically pick up stuff and be ready to take the next step without ever playing a minute. Because the way that he can communicate a defense and know what we’re trying to do just one year in was really good. And obviously now, he’s more experienced than that, and it’s translated on the biggest stage. Hopefully he can build on that.”
Williams said he continues to gain even more confidence in that regard and get more comfortable speaking up defensively, even with more veteran players.
“Even with the older guys, I feel like I play a major part in our defense,” Williams said. “Coach stresses the bigs being vocal, and the defensive people being vocal, so I just try to keep it up. … The older guys are kind of pushing me to be more vocal too, letting me know that they have a lot of trust in me, so speak up if I see something.”
Williams could have an even bigger role right off the bat this season, as free agent signing Tristan Thompson is working his way back from a hamstring injury that is expected to cost him most of training camp. While the hope is that Thompson is back in time for the season opener on Dec. 23, he could potentially be on some sort of minutes restriction.
“Yeah, for sure,” Williams said when asked if he sees more of an opportunity. “Starting in training camp, with him being out, me being vocal, me being the second big, it’s obviously helping me. When the season starts and I get the rotation minutes, I think it’ll be a big jump for me.”