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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