The Boston Celtics have a new big man onboard — well, sort of. Al Horford has returned to Beantown after a two-year hiatus by way of the Kemba Walker trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The move reunites the five-time All-Star with a handful of former teammates, from Jayson Tatum to Jaylen Brown to Marcus Smart and so on.
Horford, a stretch shooting big, should certainly open things up for the two Jays on the offensive end next season. His leadership should also make positive waves in the locker room. Yet, it’s the rekindling of Horford’s relationship with fellow big man Robert Williams that may ultimately pay the most dividends for the Celtics in the long run.
While some might view Williams as direct competition for Horford, the 14-year veteran remains eager to lend a helping hand to the budding talent. After making significant strides in his third NBA season, Williams looks to potentially be on the cusp of breaking out, and Horford is here to make sure the 23-year-old realizes that full potential.
“I’m going to be in his ear and we’re going to be figuring things out together,” Horford said of working with Williams at his introductory press conference. “I’m really excited for what’s ahead for Rob.”
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Horford ‘Impressed’ With Williams’ Growth
While Horford spent three seasons during his first stint with the Celtics, only one came while playing alongside Williams. A first-round pick in 2018, Williams wasn’t asked to do much as a rookie, averaging just 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 8.8 minutes per game. However, the Texas A&M product’s role has steadily grown every year since, culminating in a career season in 2020-21.
“I was really impressed this year with Rob and his growth and his progress,” Horford said. “I don’t know if I would say that I really took him under my wing, but I tried to help him the best way that I could. Seeing him grow, seeing him do some of the things that he’s able to do when he’s starting to understand the game and how it’s coming together for him, it’s huge. It’s been very refreshing to see his progression, and he’s going to continue to get better.”
Williams Primed for Breakout?
Williams is already a daunting presence on the defensive end, evident by his record-setting nine blocks in the Celtics’ Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1 of the playoffs. While his offensive game still has room for growth, his passing prowess is certainly nothing to scoff at. Nor is his ability to finish at the rim (72.1% field-goal percentage in 2020-21).
“He has such a good feel for the game defensively and on offense as well, trying to help him be in good positions. … I’m excited for him,” Horford said. “He knows and understands — is starting to understand everything like taking care of his body and making sure he’s putting in the work.”
Of course, the biggest concern when it comes to Williams is not ability, but rather availability. He missed 20 games this season dealing with numerous lower-body injuries, which comes on the heels of him missing 93 regular-season games over the first two years of his career.
If Williams can stay healthy next season, look for Time Lord to continue to take his game to new heights — more than likely with Horford playing alongside him in the Celtics’ frontcourt.