Celtics

Celtics Spotlight: Can Robert Williams seize a starting role in Year 2?

Celtics Spotlight: Can Robert Williams seize a starting role in Year 2?

When it comes to the NBA, change is the one constant every team and every player can count on. 

When it comes to the Celtics, no returning player has gone through the kind of metamorphosis that we’ve seen from Robert Williams III. 

When training camp started a year ago, Williams was considered a low-risk, high-reward draft pick who had a lot - A LOT - of growing up to do. 

Celtic Spotlights: Walker | Smart | Brown | Hayward 

There were missed flights (hence the "Time Lord" nickname), conditioning issues as well as nagging injuries that made him a non-factor. 

As the season wore on, he began to show glimpses of the immense potential that at one point had him pegged as a top-10 selection coming into the 2018 draft. 

Fast forward to the 107-106 win over Charlotte in the preseason opener, a game in which Williams was in the starting lineup and scored Boston's first points on a lob dunk. 

“It was great to be with the first group,” Williams told NBC Sports Boston. “That just shows that the coaches, they have a lot of trust in me.”

Certainly, more than they had a year ago, which speaks to the 21-year-old’s growth and potential. 

It’s a successful season for Williams if… 

…He spends more time than any of Boston’s bigs-by-committee in the starting lineup. It sends a clear message that the strengths in Williams’ game are on display enough to where coach Brad Stevens thinks it is a necessity for him to start. At 6-foot-11, Williams has an unusual springy-bounce to his game which allows him to block a bunch of shots and alter many others. He only appeared in 32 games in his rookie season, but he was one of just four players in the NBA with more blocked shots than committed fouls. Most of his offensive damage came on lob dunks at the rim, a dynamic that none of Boston’s other bigs can bring to the game the way Williams can. That helps explain why he shot 76 percent in the restricted area last season and he'll look to be even more impactful with more minutes available this season.

It’s a disappointing season for Williams if… 

…Williams gets lost in the playing time shuffle. Despite being in his second season, only Daniel Theis has more experience as a Celtic among Boston’s big men. Rebounding, defense and communicating on the floor will collectively dictate how big (or little) a role Williams will have this season for the Celtics. And like most players, a key to Williams’ success will also be him managing to stay healthy. The Celtics selected him with the 27th overall pick in 2018, a significant drop for a player many viewed as having top-10 talent. One of the factors in him dropping so far was his health, be it the knee-related injuries, or concerns with his overall conditioning even when healthy.  He has had some minor injuries with the Celtics, including most recently a groin injury. But it doesn’t appear as if it’ll linger, which is good news for Williams and his goal of being a starter this season.

2019-2020 Outlook

After spending most of the summer in Boston strengthening both his mental and physical game, Williams has the potential to be the Celtics’ most improved player this season. He says his weight is down to about 240 pounds, which is around 10 pounds less than he played with last season. Coaches and players have praised his work this summer and the time he has spent in the gym to get better, which is why he is one of the front-runners to start at center this season.  He spent most of his rookie season keeping tabs on Aron Baynes and Al Horford, trying to incorporate their strengths into his own game. He’ll get that opportunity for sure this season, whether it is with the first group or coming off the bench as a key reserve. 

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Karl-Anthony Towns dealing with wrist injury, will miss game vs. Celtics

Karl-Anthony Towns dealing with wrist injury, will miss game vs. Celtics

It doesn't look like the Boston Celtics will have to face Karl-Anthony Towns coming out of the All-Star break.

The Celtics are taking on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Friday night, their first night back after eight days off. The Timberwolves will be without Towns for that contest as he deals with a left wrist injury.

Towns didn't practice on Wednesday as a result of the injury. And per The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said Towns would miss games with the injury.

While the team hasn't officially confirmed that he's out, Friday's game is the Wolves' first back from the All-Star break. So, if Towns is set to miss multiple games, as Saunders implied, he will be out Friday.

Towns has averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.4 asissts, and 1.2 blocks per game for Minnesota this season. Despite his success, the Wolves have logged just a 16-37 record and have the second-worst record in the West, ahead of only the lowly Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics will be happy not to face Towns. Over the course of eight career games against the C's, Towns is averaging 21.9 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. And though Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have outperformed expectations this year, they may have had trouble guarding the talented big man.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

The Boston Celtics had a prominent presence on Team USA during the summer of 2019. The squad that competed for the FIBA World Cup title featured four members of the Celtics: Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart.

While the team lost early in the tournament and snapped a historically-long undefeated streak for Team USA via an exhibition loss to Australia, the group did have some nice moments. And it's worth noting that one Team USA player thought a Celtics player shined brightest of all during the tournament.

As Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Harris explained, he thought Tatum was the best of the bunch for the USA squad.

“I thought Jayson was probably the best player on our team this summer,” said Harris at NBA's All-Star weekend, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “Obviously there were a lot of talented guys there. Unfortunately he got hurt halfway through our trip, but he was leading us in a lot of different areas. It wasn’t this huge statistical thing, I think it was more the presence that he had. What I saw, what he brought every day to practice. It was one of those things where he is super young, but he didn’t act like it, he didn’t play like it, and I could’ve told you this summer that he’d have a pretty good chance to be here today as an All-Star.”

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Tatum only played in two games for Team USA after suffering a sprained ankle, but he did average 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. That closely mirrors the 22.4 points and 6.9 boards that he has averaged so far during the 2019-20 season, his first All-Star campaign. And Tatum only playing in the two wins, not the two losses, is notable as well.

But Harris' point about Tatum having a presence and playing beyond his years may be even more important. If he can continue to develop, keep that presence about him and emerge as a leader, there's no telling what his ceiling could be.

Tatum will look to continue his hot play of late following the All-Star break. And no matter what happens with the C's, it seems that Tatum is tracking toward becoming a star player at the NBA level.

And his peers, like Harris, are recognizing that.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.