Rob Williams Aims To Take a Different Type of Jump This Season

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");

Celtics Training Camp presented by TD Bank

BOSTON – Rob Williams has always been known as a leaper, but this season he plans to take a different type of jump on the court.

Oozing confidence during a Tuesday press conference, the bouncy center stated, “I honestly feel like I’ll make a great jump this year, for myself and also for my team.”

One key reason behind his belief is the rapid development of his communication skills on the court.

Williams entered the league in 2018 as a shot-blocking, rim-rolling big man who was able to apply pressure to opponents with his extreme athleticism. But athleticism can only take a player so far in the NBA.

Williams quickly learned from the likes of Al Horford and Aron Baynes, two established frontcourt veterans who were members of the Celtics at the time, that the only way to be a true backbone of a defense is to communicate at a high level. Williams followed Horford and Baynes with a watchful eye throughout his rookie season, during which he appeared in only 32 games, and he soon applied the lessons he learned when he arrived for the 2019 Summer League, as Brad Stevens remembers.

“I always tell the story about Rob,” Stevens said. “Like when Rob first got here, he had great people to learn from in Aron Baynes and Horford, and the next year we were getting ready for Summer League and (assistant coach) Kara Lawson came up to me and said, ‘Man, I wish everybody talked like Rob.’

“That was a reminder that people can improve, and drastically – like pick up stuff and be ready to take the next step without ever playing a minute. Because the way that he can communicate a defense and the way that he can know what we’re trying to do just one year in was really good, and obviously now, with more experience than that, it’s obviously translated to the biggest stage.”

The last portion of that comment from Stevens was in reference to the role Williams played during last season’s Playoffs, and particularly during the seven-game series against the Toronto Raptors. The big man played at least 14 minutes during five of those seven games against Toronto and shot 75 percent from the field while serving as a defensive anchor and averaging 5.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

That experience appears to have been a springboard for the third-year big. Just more than two months after last season came to an end, Williams has become one of the loudest voices in the building during training camp, both from defensive and leadership perspectives.

“I feel like I play a major part in our defense,” said Williams, who also claimed he’s been “great vocally” during camp. “Coach stresses the bigs being vocal and the defensive people being vocal, so I just try to keep it up.”

Similarly, the big man has been in the ear of his rookie teammates, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, in an attempt help them through a hectic transition into the NBA.

“Just knowing what the rookie role is about. I’ve been there,” Williams said. “Some people don’t help you or correct you or help you correct something before coach notices it. So I just try to step in with those guys.”

Nesmith, who also spoke to the media Tuesday, made it clear that Williams’ voice has positively impacted him throughout the early portions of camp.

“Robert is really big, really long,” Nesmith stated. “So with him being able to muck up the paint and talk in the back of the defense and be one of the anchors for the defense, it makes life a lot easier for guys like me, running around, flying off screens, constantly hearing his voice and help guiding me through our defense has been really helpful throughout these past couple days.”

Looking in the other direction, the best opportunity of Williams’ young career lies ahead of him over the next few weeks. Newcomer Tristan Thompson is expected to miss a significant portion of training camp and may not be ready for the start of the season. Amid his absence, Williams is the bona fide second center on the depth chart – a role he has never held during his young career.

“Starting in training camp, with [Thompson] being out, me being vocal, me being the second big, has obviously helped me,” he said. “When the season starts and I get the rotation minutes, I feel like it’ll be a big jump for me.”

A jump, he indicated, that could be comparable to the one Bam Adebayo made last season during his third season.

The two players logged very similar averages per 36 minutes during their first two seasons, albeit with Williams’ sample size being much smaller due to injuries and his place on Boston’s depth chart as a rookie. Nonetheless, Adebayo averaged 13.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes through his first two campaigns, while Williams averaged 12.4 points and 11.2 rebounds.

Adebayo wound up turning into an All-Star last season while averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. He also played a critical role in eliminating Boston from the 2020 postseason.

Williams, who is close with Adebayo and got an up-close look at the impact he made during last season’s Playoffs, sees a lot of similarities between he and his good friend.

“He’s making a living off of being able to roll to the rim quick, being a defensive player,” Williams said of Adebayo, who last month signed a massive contract extension with the Heat. “Obviously I feel like I can do the same things.”

With Thompson out, and with Williams emerging as a vocal leader at the start of this year’s training camp, the time may have finally arrived for Williams to do more than take the leap as an athlete. He’s ready to take the jump as a player.