He was a 12th man, an afterthought, someone Doc Rivers could bury at the bottom of his depth chart and hide at the end of his bench. Essentially, Williams' main purpose was to lie in waiting until injuries arose and his services were needed.
As it turned out, that time came a lot sooner than the Celtics were expecting. With the thumb injury that shelved Glen Davis less than two weeks ago, Williams became a key part of the Celtics' rotation overnight, and he hasn't shied away from the challenge.
Suffice it to say that Williams has already surpassed the Celtics' expectations for him. And it's still early November.
Through six games, Williams' per-game averages off the Celtics bench are very solid: 7.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.5 blocks. He's shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and 84.0 percent from the free-throw line. And he's only getting 17 minutes a night.
It'd be hard to ask for much more. In Williams, the Celtics have even found a player more skilled, as a pure post player at least, than Davis. He's only 6-foot-9, but with his strength, toughness, length and agility, he plays like he's bigger. He crashes the boards against opposing centers, he can defend anyone in the post and he's even starting to develop a little scoring range. No one expected to get this much out of Shelden Williams.
But there was no reason not to. He was always a future star waiting for his chance to break out. People forget that at Duke, he was one of the nation's best big men. He's a two-time national Defensive Player of the Year, placing him among elite company like Hasheem Thabeet, Emeka Okafor, Shane Battier and Tim Duncan. In all of ACC history, there are only three players with 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 350 blocks — Ralph Sampson, Duncan and Williams. This is an elite big man we're talking about. And he's still only 26.
Danny Ainge has made a coup of a signing in Shelden Williams. Sometimes, it's these quiet, unheralded moves that are Ainge's most brilliant — no one noticed at the time, but Danny brought in a No. 5 overall draft pick nearing his prime for only $825,497. Not everyone can make deals like that.
Williams almost flew under the radar in Boston. But thanks to Davis' injury, his career has now been given new life. He's got a chance to show the Celtics and the world what he can do.
"It's a good situation for me to just come in and be me," Williams told the Boston Globe last week. "So far, it's working out well."
That it is.
On Friday night, Williams gave the Celtics a double-double, pouring in 10 points and 10 rebounds (and two blocks to boot). In three games since, he's shooting 8-for-13 from the floor. This Shelden Williams experiment is going better than anyone expected.
The numbers are well and good. But for Williams, it's more about defense — and that's what makes him such a good fit in Boston.
"Pretty much where I've always been, you're responsible for your man, and that's something they don't stress here," Williams told South Coast Today on Monday. "Everybody has to jump back. Pretty much all my life I've been the last line of defense, and I've had to get the stops myself. I'm still at the point where I'm looking at my man, and I'm not looking to help. That's something I'm still working on."
Williams is still looking to improve his game. What's interesting, though, is that come next month we don't know what will happen to the C's new forward. When Davis returns, the Celtics will have a logjam of capable forwards looking to get their minutes. But the key to the Celtics has always been their teamwork, and Doc will find a way to use everyone an appropriate amount. It's what he does.
Shelden Williams never expected to be an impact player in Boston. But we're only a week in, and he's already making his presence known. Let's hope that presence continues all year.
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