The Boston Celtics haven’t lived up to expectations this year nearly halfway through the 2020-21 NBA season. As we approach the All-Star break, the Celtics stand just one game over .500 and only two games ahead of the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference.
But Boston has a secret weapon lurking on the bench that head coach Brad Stevens is finally unleashing, and that should terrify the rest of the NBA.
The Celtics have been a minor disappointment this NBA season
By simply looking at the Eastern Conference standings, it’s hard to say the Celtics have been a disappointment this season. But this is a team that’s reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the past four years. With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown still anchoring the ship, Boston expects to be competing for the No. 1 seed in the East year in and year out, not buoying on the edge of the playoff picture.
The Celtics stand at 18-17 through 35 games this season and currently occupy the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Good, right? Well, not so much. Just a few days ago, Boston found itself in the No. 9 spot in the conference and on the outside looking in on the playoff picture.
The Celtics, despite being a top-four seed as it stands today, are just two games out of dropping back to the No. 9 seed in the extremely tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
On the surface, Boston just hasn’t been the same team we’ve come to know in recent years. Just last month, the Celtics lost to bottom feeders such as the Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, and Atlanta Hawks twice. This is supposed to be a team that handles its business and doesn’t make lazy slip-ups, but that’s exactly what we’ve seen from the Celtics in recent weeks.
Robert Williams hasn’t been given a chance to shine for the Celtics
When the Celtics drafted Robert Williams late in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft, they knew exactly what they were getting — an athletic, high-upside big who could learn the ropes from Al Horford and Aron Baynes and hopefully grow into an efficient two-way player off the bench.
What the Celtics really received in Williams was a brand new Ferrari, but they refuse to take it out of the garage.
Over his first two seasons in the NBA, Williams started only three games and averaged just 10.9 minutes played per game. This season, that number is up to 15.9 minutes per game, but it’s still not enough.
In limited playing time off the bench this year, Williams is averaging 6.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. But let’s look under the hood for a moment, shall we? Williams is averaging 15.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, and 2.1 steals per 36 minutes this season. Oh, and he’s only shooting 71.8% from the floor, too. Those are All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year-type numbers.
Williams also ranks ninth in the NBA in PER (Player Efficiency Rating). Every other player who ranks inside the top 20 in PER is averaging at least 29 minutes per game this season. Williams is playing half that.
Williams is a rim-running, shot-stuffing, athletic freak that deserves more playing time.
The Celtics can become Eastern Conference contenders again by fully deploying their secret weapon
After the mini-slump the Celtics went through in mid-February, they’ve now rattled off three straight wins. There might be a reason for that.
Robert Williams has played at least 21 minutes off the bench in two of Boston’s last three games. Over that stretch, he’s averaging 11 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 72.2% from the field. He’s still coming off the bench for Brad Stevens, but an increased role for Williams can go a long way for a Celtics team in need of a spark from their bench.
Williams should be playing at least 20 minutes off the bench every single night. By the end of the season, the Celtics are going to need him for another deep playoff run.
It’s past time to unleash the Ferrari.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference