It’s that time of the year again: Awards Season at Celtics.com! As we do every offseason, we’re handing out six virtual trophies as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. There are no acceptance speeches, and the voting committee is made up of only two of your favorite beat writers, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline. So here we go...
Thursday’s unveiling of our team MVP in Jayson Tatum should not have come as a surprise to anyone, and neither should today’s announcement of the recipient of our second-unit MVP.
Our 2020-21 Sixth Man of the Year award, without a doubt, belongs to Robert Williams.
After playing a limited role with the Celtics throughout his first two injury-plagued NBA campaigns, Williams declared ahead of his third season that he was about to make a giant leap.
The determined center kept his word, as he put forth on a record-setting season while emerging as a rising star, mostly from a reserve role.
Williams played in 52 regular-season contests, including 39 appearances off the bench, and produced an average of 8.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks, while playing 18.9 minutes per game.
He also led Boston’s regulars in a variety of statistical categories including field-goal percentage (72.1 percent), blocks per game, rebounding percentage (20.2 percent), block percentage (8.6 percent), and player efficiency rating (25.7).
In fact, his PER ranked eighth in the NBA behind superstar talents Nikola Jokic (30.36), Joel Embiid (30.32), Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.24), Zion Williamson (27.17), Jimmy Butler (26.57), Stephen Curry (26.37), and Kawhi Leonard (26.09).
His block percentage mark was also tops in the league among all players who played at least 500 minutes, ranking well above three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (7.0 percent), who finished in second place.
Williams penned his name into the franchise record book numerous times throughout the season, and fittingly, for the Timelord, many of his historical feats were minutes-based.
On Jan. 4 against the Toronto Raptors, he became the first Celtics player since Wayne Embry in 1967 to corral at least 15 rebounds in a game while playing fewer than 20 minutes.
On March 14 against the Houston Rockets, he became just the 10th player in NBA history to log at least 16 points and 13 rebounds in a game while playing fewer than 20 minutes. In the process, he also became the second Celtics player to produce at least that many points and rebounds while shooting 100 percent from the field, joining Ed Pinckney.
Twelve days later against the soon-to-be Eastern Conference champion Milwaukee Bucks, he became the first Celtics player in the previous 25 seasons to log at least five assists and four blocks in a single half, and just the third NBA player in the last three seasons to accomplish such a feat, joining All-League big men Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic.
Though, Williams saved his most impressive feat for the playoffs: during Game 1 of the first round against Brooklyn, he logged a near-triple double of 11 points, nine rebounds and a postseason franchise record nine blocks, all in less than 23 minutes of action off the bench.
Williams was able to pack in so much to his limited playing, that he finished second on the team in win shares (5.3) behind Tatum (6.5), despite finishing ninth on the team in total minutes (985). That translated into .258 win shares per-48 minutes, which was nearly double that of Tatum’s second-place mark of .137. Just a reminder: Tatum was this team's MVP, and was an Eastern Conference All-Star starter.
Due to his high impact as a reserve, Williams eventually elevated himself into a starting role toward the end of the season. After coming off the bench for his first 37 appearances, the 6-foot-8 center earned starts in 13 of his last 15 games.
If Williams’ transition from the bench into the starting lineup holds true into next season, then this may be both his first and last time winning our Sixth Man of the Year award, which, of course, is a testament to his ascendence.