Robert Williams has burst onto the scene for the Boston Celtics.
Williams, 23, is in the midst of the most efficient and productive stretch of his three-year career. The Celtics big man’s improvement has been incredible to watch on a nightly basis while his gravity-defying athleticism has made him a fan-favorite in short order.
The list of people Williams has amazed probably is as long as his ball-deflecting wingspan, but not all are shocked.
“I ain’t surprised myself at all,” the 2018 first-rounder told reporters Tuesday, “because I know what I’m capable of.”
Williams, unfortunately, hasn’t really been able to show it until now.
The Texas A&M product was sidelined for three months last year with a hip issue, leading him to play just 29 games. It’s led head coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics to ramp him up slowly this season, similarly to point guard Kemba Walker, as the long-term and eventual postseason is far more important. Williams, though, already is approaching his career-high 32 games having played 28 this season.
The 6-foot-8, 237-pound center has continued to see an increase in minutes, too. While Williams has played 20 or more minutes just six times this season, four of those six games have come in the last two weeks, and two of them have come during the Celtics’ recent 3-0 stretch. His 21:41 of court time in a win over the Los Angles Clippers on Tuesday are his third most on the season.
It’s been a recipe for success. More productivity has earned Williams more minutes and more minutes have simultaneously prompted an increased efficiency.
Williams has averaged 8.4 points on 71% shooting (37-for-52) in the last 10 games. During that span, he’s also stuffed the stat sheet with 6.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 blocks.
He knows the correlation has helped.
“Like I said, it’s just comes with being out there, getting the time,” Williams said. “Not necessarily focusing on making the perfect play every time, just playing your game.”
Boston has three solid big men in Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson and Williams. Stevens has went as far to say after Celtics’ perimeter players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown those three are among the most productive on the team.
The difference in Williams, though, is the energy he provides. It’s unmatched. His ability to fly through the air, climb the ladder and throw down thunderous dunks and alley-oops can’t be overstated. It gives the team a boost.
His athleticism is complemented by his hustle, too. That’s displayed on the offensive glass, his ability to jump passing lanes and create steals, along with the ability to block and alter shots.
“I feel like as far as energy-wise, that’s my main goal,” Williams said. “When I get in the game it’s to get my teammates going any type of way that I can. Whether it’s a block, whether it’s picking someone’s head up, whether it’s yelling and screaming on the court. I try to do that anyway possible.
“I feel like people coming off the bench like Payton (Pritchard), Semi (Ojeleye), Javonte (Green), really all of us, we always talk to each other and let each other know that we have to bring the max energy,” Williams continued. “Even if we miss every shot, as long as we’re out there playing hard we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
His development also has earned him clutch minutes down the stretch. He’s found himself in Boston’s closing line up in end-of-game situations a few times recently. Stevens told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Zolak and Bertrand” on Wednesday he attributes that to the center’s newfound ability to guard multiple possessions on the defensive end.
That rarely was the case early on in his career, and it’s played a crucial role.
“Being on the floor in crunch time really is a major learning situation for me,” Williams said. “Obviously, I want to make the right decisions, but the more I’m out there, the more comfortable I get.”
He’s certainly earned the confidence of teammates like Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, who praised Williams on Tuesday night. Brown even said the “sky is the limit” for Boston’s budding star.
And when the Celtics return from the NBA All-Star break and advance deeper into the season, don’t be surprised to see Williams’ play to convince the coaching staff for more opportunities.