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Forsberg: Extending the tantalizing Time Lord now could pay off big

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If you’re looking for a rational outlook on Robert Williams’ future, you’ve come to the wrong place.

We’ve made our biases well known. But before we dive deeper into what Williams can become, let’s start with a basic statement of facts about the Time Lord's 2020-21 season:

  • Williams averaged an absurd 145.2 points per 100 shot attempts, ranking in the 98th percentile among all bigs, per Cleaning the Glass. Even as he took less shots at the rim (only 64.3 percent of his attempts came inside 3 feet, per Basketball Reference), he shot a a career-best 80.1 percent on those attempts near the rim.
  • The Celtics were 10-3 with Williams in a starting role, though it should be noted that Williams played less than 14 minutes in two of those losses (versus Phoenix and Miami).
  • The Celtics were 12-3 in the 15 games in which Williams played between 22 and 27 minutes, with his playing time spiking late in the season after the team traded away Daniel Theis at the trade deadline.
  • Williams’ per-36 minute stat line: 15.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.4 blocks, 1.6 steals.
  • Williams’ assist rate spiked to 14.2 percent, ranking him in the top 20 percent of big-men passers. The Dime Lord's assist-to-usage was 0.99, ranking in the 92nd percentile among bigs per Cleaning the Glass.
  • Williams’ block rate (4.7 percent) ranked in the 97th percentile among bigs; his steal rate (1.9 percent) ranked in the 86th percentile.
  • Williams collected 14.9 percent of available offensive rebounds during his floor time, which would have ranked fourth in the NBA if he qualified.
  • Injuries limited Williams to 52 games. He missed five of the final six games of the regular season (hobbling through 11 minutes versus Miami while trying to play through turf toe). Williams sat out the final two games of the postseason.

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That last part, admittedly, is the only thing stopping us from declaring that Williams has an All-Star ceiling. In his first three NBA seasons, Williams has played in only 113 out of a possible 236 games (47.8 percent) while battling a cocktail of maladies, the most concerning of which is probably a hip issue that sapped much of his sophomore season.

The Celtics have an interesting decision to make this summer. Williams is extension eligible and, given the time he’s missed, there could be a sweet spot that player and team could find that could lock up his services deep into the future.

ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks noted on the Celtics Talk podcast last week that only seven players selected No. 20 or later have been extended since 2018. But nothing about Williams is typical and the Celtics might be well served to roll the dice on potential in hopes of locking Williams up at a rate that could greatly ease roster construction moving forward.

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Remember, Jayson Tatum has already anointed Williams as maybe his favorite player to compete with. The stats back up his declaration. In 687 minutes together this past season, the Tatum/Williams combo had a net rating of plus-4.5, which included a 116.3 offensive rating. In the 1,603 minutes that Tatum played without Williams, that net rating dropped to plus-2.2 with an offensive rating of 112.8.

We’d go so far as to say this: Williams is the third most important player on the Celtics right now and could be vital to whatever the Jays accomplish moving forward. The health issues undeniably add a layer of complexity to the situation but, if Williams can stay even relatively healthy, he changes the ceiling of what this team can accomplish.

In Game 1 against the Nets, while playing on nine healthy toes, Williams flirted with a triple-double while putting up 11 points, 9 blocks, and 9 rebounds in less than 23 minutes. The Nets were far more reluctant to attack the basket whenever Williams was patrolling than any other Boston backline defender. When Williams denied a James Harden drive then swatted his trademark stepback 3-pointer, it was a gasp-inducing sequence.

We’ll get a decent gauge on Boston’s concerns about Williams’ health this summer. If the sides can’t come to an agreement on an extension, it might hint that the Celtics are leery of his ability to consistently stay on the court.

But the potential is not in question. A healthy Williams could thrust himself into the All-Defense conversation even as he learns to be more disciplined on that end. And that might just be the tip of the iceberg if injuries don’t sink him.