How Robert Williams III’s ‘out of this world’ talents can help Celtics

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Forsberg: How Time Lord’s ‘out of this world’ talents can help C’s originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

What will the Boston Celtics gain with Robert Williams III expected to make is 2022-23 season debut on Friday night against the Orlando Magic? We’ll let fellow Boston big man Luke Kornet lay it out.

“His insane athleticism,” said Kornet. “Defensively, he’s just so incredible and, for what we do, he’s so important and out of this world in that extent. Offensively, just sharing the ball. I feel like he fits in so well with how we’ve been playing with just moving the ball, trusting each other, and that’s never been an issue with Rob. So he definitely adds an element to our team. And, from a personal side, it will be great to have him back.”

Kornet remembers being a senior at Vanderbilt and marveling at Williams III’s raw potential after crossing paths during Time Lord’s freshman season at Texas A&M. By the time Kornet arrived in Boston last season, he was blown away by what he saw from Williams III.

“You see stuff like literally nobody else in the world,” said Kornet.

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And that, in a nutshell, is why Williams III’s return is so vital for the Celtics. He is one of one. The Celtics’ league-leading defense shifted to another gear last season after Williams III settled into a free safety role and generated havoc with his size and athleticism. Combine that with his above-the-rim ways on the offensive end and Williams III makes the Celtics so much more dynamic when he’s on the floor.

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Getting Williams III back is a rather absurd luxury for a team that already sits atop the NBA. Boston’s defense has already made strides in recent weeks, clawing its way to No. 8 in defensive rating. But there’s another level to ascend to with Williams III roaming the floor. He’s a deterrent when guards drive at the rim, he can recover to shooters and contest 3-point shots, and Boston’s block percentage will spike with him back on the floor.

For a Boston team that has played undersized for long stretches to start the season, Williams III will add needed size and rebounding. Williams III can kick up the pace with his unquenched desire to push the ball up the court, or create open looks with his vision in the high post in halfcourt sets. The Celtics will lose a bit of shooting in some lineups but the threat of Williams III rolling free to the rim will ensure defenders don’t stray far from his side.

It’s unreasonable to expect much from Williams III as he eases back in. The Celtics have the ability to bring him along slowly and he can play bite-sized chunks in the infancy of his return. The ultimate goal is simply to get him reacclimatized with a starting group that dominated opponents last season and get him feeling confident in that injured knee again.

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The Celtics’ ceiling — already championship-level high — gets another push skyward with the return of Williams III.

“We got the No. 1 offense and we’re playing well on that end, obviously our defense has slacked a little bit, but we’re back up there, getting there,” said Marcus Smart. “With adding him, it’s only going to push us back over the top. We know the type of defender that Rob is, the type of player that Rob is, offensive player, the threat that he poses on defenses.

“It’s only going to help our game tremendously. It’s going to help us guard, be able to fill even more, be more comfortable with getting up on guys and pressuring them and wreaking havoc on the opposing guards. So Rob is a special talent.”

Just in case you need a reminder of Williams III’s potential impact: He ranked in the 100th percentile among all bigs while scoring 149.3 points per 100 shot attempts last season, per Cleaning the Glass data. Williams III shot 79 percent at the rim and 73.6 percent overall. He blocked 3.7 percent of all shots during his floor time last year, which was actually down a full percentage point over the previous two seasons, but still ranked near the top of all big men.

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The Celtics owned a net rating of +10.0 during Williams III’s 1,804 minutes of floor time last season. Among players with at least 750 minutes played for Boston, that ranked second behind only Jayson Tatum (+12.1).

While he ramped up for his return last week in San Francisco, Williams III said watching the Celtics start the season so hot didn’t make it any easier to not be on the floor.

“I’m way more eager. Way more eager,” said Willaims III. “That’s just the love for the game, it doesn’t die depending on how well your team does. It’s always with you.”

Williams III has been wearing a bulky brace over his left knee while working his way back. He said it’s not as thick or prohibitive as it looks. It won’t deter him from his usual gravity-defying ways.

There will most certainly be rust at the onset. Williams III looked gassed even just in 3-on-3 work while getting his legs back under him. But he knows he can help this team.

And the Celtics need a healthy Williams III to reach their ultimate championship potential.

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