addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");
BOSTON – Rob Williams made headlines at the start of this week for the wrong reasons. He intends to swat those headlines aside during Summer League action by showcasing the defensive skills that inspired Boston to select him 27th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Williams is a shot-blocking machine and a defensive menace who won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year award during both of his collegiate seasons at Texas A&M. Those defensive abilities and his elite athleticism immediately popped off the court upon his arrival Monday afternoon to Summer League practice.
“I mean he was volley-ball spiking shots, and catching the ball with his elbows,” Summer League head coach Jay Larranaga said of Williams with a chuckle of disbelief.
The anticipation is that the NBA community will soon witness those threatening abilities once the Summer C’s begin play Friday night in Las Vegas.
Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game during his two seasons at Texas A&M. He struck fear into his opponents with his ability to swing over for help-side blocks.
Priority No. 1 for Williams in Boston will be figuring out how to translate that skill to the pros, which may be more challenging than one might think.
Williams is now learning a brand-new defensive system and defensive philosophy. He acknowledged Tuesday afternoon, during his first media interview at Summer League practice, that it is already clear to him that defense at A&M and defense in Boston are two entirely different animals.
“At A&M I felt like it was a select few people who wanted to strive on defense and wanted to give 100 percent on defense,” he said. “But with this team, I’d say it’s strictly [built] on defense. You start on defense, the offense will come. We do defensive drills repeatedly every day. Every drill is a defensive drill.”
The key to blocking shots in Boston’s system will be Williams’ ability to make decisions on the fly. As Larranaga explained Tuesday, the Celtics need their defenders, especially their shot blockers, to read and react at a high level.
“Recognizing when your teammates are in trouble and that you need to give them help, and then times when no, that’s a non-threatening drive or that’s a non-threatening shot and I just need to stay home and get on the glass,” he said of what players must recognize.
Larranaga singled out Aron Baynes, Al Horford and Daniel Theis as players who great examples in regard to making those reads and decisions.
“I thought Aron and Al, Daniel Theis, although they didn’t have maybe those highlight-reel blocks that Robert has had in his career, they protected the rim as well as anybody in the league, and they did it with positioning,” he commented. “They did it with understanding, and that’s really the area that we’re trying to focus on with our entire Summer League team, is understanding how important help-side defense is.”
It doesn’t sound like Williams has any concerns about being able to provide a similar level of help-side defense once the Celtics open up play in Vegas.
“I’m always there to help my teammates to get the block,” he confidently stated.
He has every right to speak on the topic with such confidence. After all, he was always there to help his teammates to get the block while Texas A&M, and every opponent knew it.
If that trend carries over to Summer League play and beyond, everyone will forget about the big man’s missteps during the opening days of his professional career. The only thing they’ll be thinking about is the type of impact this athletic shot blocker can make for the Eastern Conference favorites.