Time Lord's time to shine: Brad Stevens high on Robert Williams' growth

Time Lord's time to shine: Brad Stevens high on Robert Williams' growth

BOSTON — The offseason is all about improvement for NBA players. 

When it comes to the Boston Celtics, second-year big man Robert Williams III is near the front of the line when it comes to that in the eyes of his head coach Brad Stevens. 

“Rob Williams has put in as good a summer as anybody,” Stevens said. “And just seeing him up close has been fun. He’s been here a lot. He’s really worked hard.”

It’s the kind of description Celtics fans love to hear about the 6-foot-11 center whose first year in Boston didn’t get off to the best of starts.

He overslept and missed his initial press conference, and followed that up by missing a flight which kept him away from the team’s first practice prior to summer league last year. 

Williams had a few bumps and bruises that slowed him down and limited his availability, compounded by the fact that his conditioning wasn’t great, either. 

But this offseason, Williams III has shown a much-improved level of commitment to improve, reminding folks prior to summer league that he had lost weight (six pounds) but with a grin he added, “I’m still a problem (on the floor).”

The Celtics were hopeful he would make the necessary improvements to compete for playing time, but by no means was it assumed even with an increased opportunity to play.

Al Horford opted out of the final year of his contract with Boston to become a free agent and signed a four-year, $109 million deal with Philadelphia.

Aron Baynes, one of the top defensive big men in the NBA, was traded to Phoenix. 

So that left Williams as the lone center on the roster until Boston went out and signed Vincent Poirier from France, and re-signed Daniel Theis. Boston also signed 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall to an Exhibit 10 contract, but Fall isn’t expected to be contending for major playing time. 

Williams’ turnaround was first noticeable in his approach to summer league. 

While most of the talk centered on Boston’s four rookies — Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, and Tremont Waters (as well as Fall, who was a fan favorite this summer) — Robert Williams was asserting himself as someone who comes in equipped to compete for a spot in the team’s regular playing rotation. 

More than anything else, Stevens said the biggest difference with Williams now is his presence. 

“(Celtics assistant coach) Kara Lawson said something to me in Vegas that really stuck with me,” Stevens recalled. “She said, 'I wish everybody communicated like Rob does.' Last year this time, you wouldn’t have said that. Last year in the middle of the year, you wouldn’t have said that.”

Certainly being a year older and having gone through the grind of an NBA season, has aided his personal growth. 

There’s another contributing factor, Stevens says. 

“That may be the great leadership back to (Aron) Baynes and Al (Horford), being passed down to a young player playing the same position,” Stevens said.

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Jayson Tatum's talent, Jaylen Brown's bulk amaze Celtics teammate Enes Kanter

Jayson Tatum's talent, Jaylen Brown's bulk amaze Celtics teammate Enes Kanter

Celtics big man Enes Kanter has a propensity to talk up his teammates, but as Boston prepares for its first practice inside the Disney bubble on Friday, Kanter offered a particularly glowing report of what he’s seen from Boston’s core rotation players in voluntary workouts, especially Jaylen Brown.

"The one who amazed me the most is probably Jaylen Brown,” Kanter said Thursday while taping an episode of “The Enes Kanter Show” podcast from his hotel room in Orlando. “[Brown] literally came in — his arms, his upper body, he’s like doubled. He was an extra large and now he was like a double XL.

"This dude, I’m like, ‘What did you do?’ I think all the boxing with his grandfather [during quarantine workouts] got him right. He looks really strong to me.”

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Brown’s 78-year-old grandfather, Willie Brown, a Vietnam vet, guided Brown through boxing-heavy workouts while the NBA season was paused. Those sessions might have helped Brown add bulk, which would come in handy given that he’s routinely tasked with defending power forwards and stretch bigs.

But Brown wasn’t the only one earning Kanter's praise.

"Jayson Tatum, you walk in the gym, this dude is not missing. He did not lose his touch. I’m like, ‘This is talent.’ Rob Williams looks really good. He’s dunking everything. [Daniel] Theis finally got his six-pack. He actually looks in really good shape. Theis was dunking everything and making 3s — the Theis that we know.

“Kemba [Walker] lost weight and he actually looked leaner. I actually asked him, ‘Did you get taller?’ He was like, ‘No, I’m just leaner. I’m just in good shape.’ … Gordon looked really good, looked really really good. They’re all ready to go.”

Enes Kanter Show: C's center gives first impressions of NBA bubble | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

A leaner Walker could alleviate some of the knee discomfort the All-Star point guard experienced before the season paused.

Kanter is eager to see what a full-strength Celtics squad can accomplish given how rare it was for the team to have all of its core players healthy and playing to their abilities before the season was interrupted.

Kanter noted how the Larry O’Brien Trophy from Boston’s 2008 title win was at the Auerbach Center earlier this week and he’s eager to help deliver another shiny golden prize. He’s confident Boston has the talent and focus to compete for this year’s crown, especially given the unique bubble conditions.

“All the players showed up; none of the Celtics players stayed home,” said Kanter. “We’re here to compete, here to have fun, and try to win a championship.

"Hey, I promise the Celtics fans, man, the 18th banner is coming soon. We better win because I know how crazy the Celtics fans are. We better get that.”

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center explains importance of mental strength in NBA bubble

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center explains importance of mental strength in NBA bubble

The NBA's bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida will provide the players with plenty of fun activities -- bowling, golf, movies, video games and ping pong, among others -- in their spare time. This doesn't mean the environment will be without challenges, though.

The Boston Celtics traveled down to Orlando on Wednesday night, and they will be staying at the Gran Destino Tower during the league's restart.

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Not every player will be in perfect basketball shape once practices ramp up soon. That's understandable, and it's a challenge the players eventually will overcome. The mental challenges will be the most important -- and maybe the toughest -- to battle through given the uniqueness of the situation. 

In the latest episode of the The Enes Kanter Show podcast, Celtics center Enes Kanter explained the importance of mental strength in the league's bubble.

"All we have to do is get in game shape. We all know how to play basketball. It's like riding a bike -- you can't forget how to play basketball," Kanter said. "You can be a little rusty and get back into shape. But I think the important thing is the mental part because you're away from your family and loved ones for three months and now all you have is your basketball family and coaches. That's why the 3-month period before Orlando was so important to keep building that chemistry. I think now we're all bonding and the chemistry is really good. We all care about each other. We're just going to go out there and play golf, go bowling and fish all day, and other than that just play basketball. I feel, besides from the games, you can actually just relax. Read a book, just invest in yourself."

Enes Kanter Show: C's center gives first impressions of NBA bubble | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The bubble was made to ensure the players can continue playing in an environment that's as safe and as healthy as possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Players won't have the same freedom they normally do on the road, and the teams that are mentally tough and well prepared likely will enjoy the most success in Orlando.

Kanter is in no mood to complain. He's going to make the most out of the opportunity to compete for a championship, and you can bet his Celtics teammates will have a similar attitude. 

"Love it or hate, you're going to be here for three months," Kanter said. "So you might as well look at the positive side of it.

Check out The Enes Kanter Show on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below: