As the Boston Celtics navigated their three-game scrimmage schedule inside the Orlando bubble, we tended to perk up a bit each time Robert Williams touched the floor.
Call if the Timelord Effect.
There’s a curiosity that lingers about Williams, a 2018 first-round pick who endeared himself to Celtics fans, first with his head-slapping aloofness and then with his freak athleticism.
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Williams blocks shots like he’s the outside hitter on a volleyball team and throws down alley-oops with such ferocity that you’d think the NBA awarded extra points based on exit velocity. Alas, injuries have consistently impeded Williams’ progress and the conversation around him has seemingly paused on whether he can ever stay healthy enough to emerge as a consistent contributor.
So when Williams drew a spot start Tuesday night while the Celtics rested their veterans in their final bubble tuneup against the Houston Rockets, a sleepy scrimmage became must-see TV for Timelord enthusiasts.
Williams finished with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. The zero in the block column might be the most notable number in his line and Williams spent most of the night trying to use his size as a weapon against Houston’s small-ball frontcourt.
Williams had his moments throughout scrimmage action and his potential is simply undeniable. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to earn the trust of Celtics coach Brad Stevens, particularly if Williams yearns to be deployed on the playoff stage.
Make no mistake, Stevens could use someone like Williams. The Celtics don’t have anyone like him on the roster, a 6-foot-8 rim runner who seemingly should be the perfect complement for Boston’s core players.
Health shouldn’t be an issue for Williams, who missed three months starting in December due to a lingering hip issue. He offered a tantalizing four-game appetizer before the 2019-20 season paused in March and has said his hip is healthy entering the restart.
Still, Williams hasn’t exactly kicked down the rotation door in scrimmage play. We still got flashes of his potential but not enough to be able to declare that Stevens can lean on him in big doses when the games matter most.
Before the season paused, in a tiny 323-minute sample of floor time, Williams averaged 10.9 points, 12 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 2.5 assists per 36 minutes. He’s got underrated passing skills and is slowly learning he doesn’t have to try to block every shot he contests, especially if it leaves him out of position for the rebound.
The seeding games will offer another opportunity for Williams to state his case for an end-of-the-season role. While healthy, he must embrace every second he’s on the court, and then work twice as hard off of it to prove he can help this team.
Nothing would surprise us about Williams’ restart role. There were games like the one in San Antonio this season where we saw just how impactful Williams can be. But he also logged a (seemingly healthy) DNP in the final game before the break in Indiana, which tells you that there will be times when Stevens simply does not call his number.
When he does, we’ll be extra attentive. Williams can help this team. He has the potential to be a playoff X-factor. But he’s got to play with more consistency and more urgency.
Otherwise, the Timelord Effect will start to fade.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Bucks, which begins Friday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.