In his first offseason as the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, Brad Stevens has been busy. The team turned Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, and Tristan Thompson into Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Kris Dunn, Bruno Fernando and a $17 million traded player exception.
The Celtics signed veteran Enes Kanter, along with Dennis Shröeder for the $6 million mid-level exception, which could turn out to be a steal for the team. Following free agency, Stevens stayed busy, extending defensive-minded guard and fan favorite Marcus Smart to a four-year, $77 million contract.
On Friday, news broke that the Celtics had reached another extension. 23-year-old center Robert Williams agreed to a four-year, $54 million deal to remain in Boston. He will earn an average of $13.5 million per season in what will almost certainly be a starting role, locking him in long-term alongside Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
In his first two seasons with the Celtics, Williams’ development took a backseat to Horford, Aron Baynes, and Daniel Theis playing ahead of him on the depth chart. When he wasn’t suffering from injuries, Williams was playing in the G-League.
Last season was Williams’ third in the NBA, and he showed clear signs of development, despite a small sample size. He started 13 of 52 games played, and averaged eight points, seven rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 18 minutes per game. While those stats don’t jump off the page as ultra-impressive, Williams is already a difference-maker for the Celtics, and will only continue to improve.
Williams certainly has his areas of needed improvement. His offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, along with court awareness. Williams doesn’t have many post moves, and isn’t a great foul shooter when he rarely gets to the free throw line. But his strengths are what make him an excellent fit next to Tatum and Brown.
Williams, though slightly undersized for a center at 6-foot 8-inches, is an excellent defender with impressive reach who can both block shots in the post, and defend against forwards on the perimeter. With Williams manning the post, Boston has an elite defensive starting five.
Williams’ defensive and offensive skills were showcased in Game 1 of the 2021 Playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets. He scored 11 points, had nine rebounds, and blocked nine shots, setting a new franchise record for blocks in the playoffs.
Williams caught lobs and executed second chance opportunities, blocked shots in the paint, defended well against wings on the perimeter, and cleaned the glass for the Celtics. Unfortunately for his team, Williams was playing through a turf toe injury, and missed the final two games of the series.
This game was a clinic on the defensive end, and showed what Williams can be if he stays healthy. His per-36 minute stat line last season was 15.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.4 blocks, 1.6 steals- making him a player very worthy of his new extension.
While his injuries are a valid concern, Robert Williams will almost certainly improve his strengths and weaknesses as the Celtics’ starting center this season. In more minutes alongside a talented core of guards and wings, Williams will have more room to focus on his offensive game, as he is already a great rim-running center.
If he can stay on the court long enough to continue developing his game, his $13.5 million salary is a steal for Boston.
Featured image credited to CBS Sports.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.