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BOSTON – Around midway through the first round of Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Texas A&M big man Robert Williams became a hot topic of conversation among the Boston Celtics’ front office brass while they were huddled around a table inside the “War Room” at the Auerbach Center.
A unique blend of length, athleticism and rim protection skills allowed the 6-foot-10, 240-pound 20-year-old to land on Boston’s radar, and the organization was ready to pounce if he dropped all the way down to their lone pick, late in the first round.
“There's a lot of good players out there,” said C’s coach Brad Stevens, “and each pick we were hoping more and more that he would be available at 27.”
Team after team passed on Williams, before he eventually fell right into Boston’s lap. The made the call to the league without hesitation, officially welcoming Williams into their brotherhood.
What was it that sold the Celtics on Williams? Well, it was a large combination of NBA-level attributes according to Stevens, who spoke with the media moments after the pick was made.
“When you look at guys with size and how they can impact the game now – he’s got good feet, he���s a good athlete, he’s got a 7-foot-5 wingspan and he plays way above the rim,” said Stevens, while listing off Williams’ strengths. “And his ability to block shots, the ability to alter shots, the quickness to catch up, to guard shooters if they get a step, being able to still alter that. And then obviously if you can have four shooters on the floor and have a guy like that rolling to the rim, you can just throw it up in the air and he can go get it and finish it.”
Williams averaged 11.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game during his two seasons with the Aggies, while playing 25.7 minutes per contest. He was downright dominant on the glass with an offensive rebounding rate of 11.9 percent and a defensive rebounding rate of 24.0 percent.
Interestingly, the Celtics did not work out Williams at their practice facility as they did with roughly 60 other prospects. But that doesn’t mean the front office didn’t do their homework on the prospect.
“Nobody works harder than Danny (Ainge), nobody works harder than our front office at going and watching players play live all year long,” explained Stevens. “The workouts to them are just a formality in a lot of ways, so the idea of them coming to Boston is great and all, but they’ve already watched him play live a bunch and have spent time with a lot of their coaches and people around the program.”
What Ainge and the rest of Boston’s talent evaluators discovered while scouting Williams was that he possessed a bunch of characteristics that the Celtics were somewhat lacking.
“He’s a rim protector and a rebounder and he can play above the rim on both ends of the court,” said Ainge, who spoke with the media after the conclusion of the Draft. “We don’t have much of that. We have a little bit of that, but not what he can do.”
One area that Williams needs to improve upon is his shooting ability, but he still has a lot to offer on the offensive end in the meantime. He excels in the pick-and-roll, is great at converting on lob passes, and, to the delight of Stevens, has shown signs of becoming a strong playmaker.
“As far as handling and passing, I think he’s actually got a good foundation there,” said Stevens. “I think that he will improve his shot and get right to work on that, but handling and passing, I think he’ll be able to do that and be able to continue to get better at it. We put a lot of time into ball handling with our bigs, from Day 1 once they get here.”
Day 1 for Williams is set for June 29. That is when he is scheduled to be formally introduced to the team at their new training facility, and that will be his first opportunity to slip on his new green and white uniform.
And from there, the NBA grind begins for the newest member of the Celtics.