As Role Expands, Williams Continues To Impress with Impact and Highlights

Brad Stevens said before Sunday’s game in New Orleans that he and the Celtics need Rob Williams to be able to ramp up his playing time as the season goes on. Williams then took the court against the Pelicans and showed everyone who was watching exactly why that’s the case.

The third-year big man out of Texas A&M tantalized viewers across the nation – including ABC analyst Doris Burk, who praised him throughout the contest – with his mesmerizing athleticism, his elite shot-blocking skills, and his constant activity throughout Sunday’s contest. He totaled game highs of 13 points and four blocks to go along with an efficient eight points and three assists, all while playing only 21 minutes of the game.

Believe it or not, Sunday stood as the third-most playing time Williams has received this season. He has eclipsed 20 minutes of action only five times all season to this point.

That won't last much longer given the way he's playing right now.

Not only did Williams stuff the stat sheet Sunday afternoon, but he also sent jaws to the ground with multiple plays that were tailor-made for his highlight reel. He seemingly defied the laws of gravity at least once at each end of the court.

First came the blocked shot on All-Star wing Brandon Ingram during the opening quarter, during which Williams borderline levitated in the air while his right arm stretched high above the rim

Ingram used a crossover and then drove hard to the rim with his left hand, initially beating Williams off the dribble. But Williams recovered and leaped high into the air and seemed to hang at the peak of his jump just long enough to swat Ingram’s shot away. Play-by-play man Mark Jones pointed out that Williams’ elbow was nearly above the rim on the play. GIF of Robert Williams Block

Then came the third-quarter dunk that felt in real time to be impossible to pull off, and felt even more impossible upon second, third and fourth review.

Williams set a screen for Jaylen Brown and then rolled hard to the rim. Brown, meanwhile, turned the corner off the screen and took a hard dribble with his right hand before tossing up a not-so-perfect alley-oop to Williams. This oop nearly reached the top of the backboard, yet somehow, Williams rose high enough with his right hand extended to control the oop and slam it home in emphatic fashion to push Boston ahead by 21 points late in the fourth quarter.

GIF of Robert Williams Alley-oop

These types of plays are only small pieces of Rob Williams’ overall puzzle. As teammate Jayson Tatum acknowledged after the game, the impact Williams provides to the Celtics goes well beyond the highlights.

“He’s tough to guard,” said Tatum, “because he gets out the [pick-and-roll] quick. Obviously he can play really high above the rim. He has an amazing feel for the game, (like) when he tips it out on rebounds, and he can get in the roll and know where to pass it.

Passing is one of Williams’ most underrated skills. His three assists Sunday matched the number of assists totaled by the other four centers who appeared in the game. Williams has already dished out multiple assists in six games this season, despite the fact that he has played fewer than 20 minutes during all but five of his appearances.

That trend of limited playing time is unlikely to last much longer, as Stevens mentioned before Williams’ performance Sunday afternoon. His impact cannot be ignored, and his playing time must increase.

Tatum and Williams himself are anxious for that opportunity to arrive.

“Rob’s really, really good,” said Tatum, “and he’s gonna help us out the more opportunities that he gets.”

Williams, meanwhile, discussed how he believes he’ll become even more effective as he logs more experience through increased playing time.

“I feel like it’ll just help me read plays better, read defenses better, read the spacing better,” he said Sunday. “And obviously, I’ll become way more comfortable on the court.”

That’s a scary proposition for Boston’s opponents.

Williams is already throwing down more lobs, blocking more shots, grabbing more rebounds and dishing out more assists than most of the centers with whom he shares the court despite his limited playing time. His impact, along with his total of jaw-dropping highlights, is only going to go up from here.

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