CelticsBlog Player of the Week #9: Robert Williams III

Suffice it to say: that wasn’t the best week of Boston Celtics basketball any of us have ever seen. Coming off of the deflation blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics’ efforts to reclaim some momentum fell flat — they dropped three of their four contests, including a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and a pair of home losses to the youthful Orlando Magic. Sandwiched in the middle was a rollercoaster win over the Los Angeles Lakers that featured a riveting Celtics comeback after allowing a 31-5 run, but given their ignominious return home, it was a win that didn’t ultimately inspire much confidence.

This is the just the second losing week the Celtics have recorded this year, with the first coming all the way back in the second week of the season. Let’s see what positives can be taken from it by appointing our Player of the Week.

Honorable Mentions

Let’s be honest… there aren’t a whole lot of bright spots to pick out of this recent downswing. There isn’t a player on the roster who put together four consecutive performances that you’d necessarily consider “good,” which leaves us a bit light on candidates to discuss. The role players were mostly invisible, while the top of the rotation was inconsistent, at best.

Jaylen Brown stands a bit ahead of the pack, having recorded at least 20 points and 40% shooting from the field in all four games, alongside some nice work on the glass (9.3 RPG) and active hands defensively (2.3 SPG). He was well below his usual levels in terms of efficiency, though; his three-point shot largely abandoned him (30% for the week, including a gruesome 6-of-20 across the Orlando games), he missed a bunch of free throws, and he coughed up 4.5 turnovers per game.

Jayson Tatum deserves a mention, as he once again turned in the best individual performance on the roster with his 44-point eruption in the Celtics’ thrilling comeback against the Lakers. He struggled massively in the Clippers loss, however, and sat out the second game against the Magic for personal reasons. Marcus Smart continued to move the basketball (7 APG) and made some big plays down the stretch to bring the Celtics back against the Lakers. Malcolm Brogdon brought his usual scoring punch off the bench with three double-digit performances, but don’t ask how many shots it took to get him there.

Indeed, this isn’t the most inspiring slate of options. For that reason, we’re going outside of the box.

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Four

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CelticsBlog Player of the Week #9: Robert Williams III

2 GP, 17.5 MPG, 7.5 PPG (78% FG), 5 RPG, 1 APG, 1.5 BPG, -10

Obviously, selecting a player who appeared in just two of four games for 34 total minutes isn’t ideal. This doesn’t really fit with our usual MO of highlighting a player who consistently elevated the team across the entire week. But with players scuffling up and down the roster, we’re going in a different direction here. Williams’ return to the lineup has been a much-anticipated development for this team, and the encouraging signs he showed in his return to play make for a more interesting discussion than appointing someone like Brown as “best of the worst” for a week of play that fell short of his typical standards.

So no, Williams wasn’t exactly the “best” player to take the court for the Celtics this week. That distinction will almost always go to either Tatum or Brown, even during weeks where they struggle. This week, the scales probably favor Brown in that regard. Williams’ return to play may have made him the most compelling player to take the court, however, and that seems worthy of recognition.

It didn’t take long for Williams to remind everybody of exactly what he can do — or alleviate some anxiety about the condition of his surgically repaired knee. He checked in for his first shift of the season with about seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, and just two minutes after that, he slammed down a two-handed dunk off the feed from Marcus Smart.

Yeah, that looks about right.

Williams has been one of the NBA’s most efficient players since he entered the league, and while you’d be right to say that it’s a product of low usage and a hyper-specific offensive role, there’s value in his ability to pressure the rim vertically . The Celtics have never been particularly prolific when it comes to attacking the rim, though the addition of Brogdon and the continued growth of Tatum and Brown have helped in that regard. Williams’ ability as a lob threat provides another variable that defenses have to account for, which helps grease the wheels of the Boston offense.

Returning with Williams is one of my favorite little games the Celtics like to play: how bad of a lob can you throw him that he’ll still slam home? The early leader in the clubhouse is Tatum, for this wonky little toss that you probably could have mistook for a shot attempt.

The other side of the Robert Williams equation is the defense, and as we’ve discussed in this space before, the Celtics have been lacking at times on that end of the court. Reintroducing Williams — second-team All-Defense last season, and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate prior to tearing his meniscus — could be a shot in the arm. We know all about what he can do as a rim deterrent, and sending back three shots in his first two games was an encouraging sign.

It felt like one litmus test for how his knee might be feeling would be if he could get up to block a jumper. Well… he sure did. Sorry, Franz Wagner. That seven-foot wingspan isn’t quite long enough.

There were some first-game-back yips, to be sure. He committed an offensive foul on Orlando’s Franz Wagner just moments after checking into the game for the first time, one of his three fouls in limited minutes on the evening. That’s to be expected from a player who has missed so much time, however, and we saw him build some confidence as he got more minutes under his belt.

Let Williams tell you about it in his own words, after the first Orlando loss: “I think I just needed to catch a lob and dunk, to be honest. After my first dunk, I could just breathe.”

This was a week to forget for the Boston Celtics, no doubt about that. But the return of Robert Williams III is a welcome development, and while his debut did not immediately translate to wins, we certainly got glimpses of how he can help this team as they look to get back on track. Given the circumstances, that’s enough to consider him our Player of the Week.

Coming up next, the Celtics holiday homestand continues, as the Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves come to town on Wednesday and Friday, respectively, before the Celtics take the court for their biggest game of the year thus far — the Milwaukee Bucks are coming to TD Garden on Christmas Day, with the top seed in the Eastern Conference likely on the line. Who will be Boston’s holiday hero this week? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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