It’s been 11 weeks since we last saw center Robert Williams on the floor for the Celtics and though the team has tightened minutes at the center position in the meantime—Daniel Theis has played an average of 27.5 minutes per game in the last 12 games with Enes Kanter and Grant Williams splitting the rest—Williams could re-emerge as a factor as the Celtics seek to set their rotation down the stretch.
More important for Williams, though, is that the team was careful in handling his left hip injury from the outset. At age 22, the team still has hope that Williams will be its center of the future and the cautious protocol around what was diagnosed as bone edema in his hip is a sign of that. The Celtics did not want to risk future injury by hurrying Williams back.
Bone edema is, essentially, a bone swelling or bruise. The origin of the bruise was difficult to determine and when the pain in Williams’ hip first became a problem, the team had to rule out long-term causes like cartilage issues that could require microfracture surgery, bone necrosis that could signal a problem with blood flow and a hip impingement that could also need surgery. Those could be chronic.
“That’s the scary thing is that it could be a bunch of different things,” one source told Heavy.com. “But they protected him, let him heal and there are no long-term worries, no red flags.”
Could be Best-Case Scenario for Robert Williams
While it is unclear exactly when Williams suffered the injury, the fact that there are no long-term concerns indicates that Williams’ left hip likely was subject to an unexpected impact, like an awkward landing that caused the femur to jam into the hip socket, leaving it swollen.
“That is the best-case scenario, that he jumped and landed wrong,” said Dr. Derek Ochiai, a hip specialist at the Nirschl Orthopaedic Center for Sports Medicine in Virginia. “Typically it is a situation where a player will jump and land awkwardly and the body just wasn’t prepared for the impact—you land on one foot without your knee bending, for example. That’s just a one-off injury. It sounds like (the Celtics) have watched it closely, probably just to make sure the healing is progressing and there isn’t another problem developing.”
Three months might seem like a long time to come back from a bone bruise, but Williams has been saying he’s ready to play for nearly a month now. The team wants to be certain there are no further issues and, also, that Williams is not having issues in other areas arising from the hip problem—if he favors one side of his hip, that imbalance could put him at risk for an injury elsewhere.
“With an injury like this to a 22-year-old athlete,” Dr. Ochiai said, “there’s no benefit to hurrying him back.”
About that Dunk on Grant Williams …
Williams has appeared in 19 games this season, averaging 3.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 14.2 minutes per game. He got one start, in the Celtics’ third game of the season.
The Celtics shut down Williams after the injury for four weeks of rest and had his hip re-scanned in early January. He was allowed to begin running in late January and had another scan in early February. He had his first full workout on February 9 and returned to Celtics practice last week.
Williams will have one more scan on Friday and if that shows no further problems now that he has had regular practice time, he should be cleared to play. General manager Danny Ainge said a target date for Williams’ return is March 1.
And, according to Theis, Robert Williams has looked nimble on the floor. He put down a dunk over Grant Williams in practice. “I think everybody forgot how explosive he is, and how he can jump, and how he can change the game,” Theis said.
In his defense, Grant Williams said it was a relatively mild dunk.
“Rob will say it wasn’t that bad,” Grant said, according to Masslive.com. “It was a dunk-on technically. Neither one of us wanted to get hurt, so we didn’t go body to body. He kind of didn’t want to dunk it, I didn’t want to block it, and then the next thing you know we were like, ‘Okay let’s do it.’ So I went to block, and I jumped by him. Then he went to dunk and dunked it, but we didn’t contact each other. It was more so like the look of it was bad.”
Considering how long it has been since Robert Williams was dunking on anyone, it’s a good start for the Celtics.