The Boston Celtics lay claim to the best defense in the NBA this season, leading the league in defensive rating at 106.2. Head coach Ime Udoka implemented a defensive scheme that relies heavily on switching, and with Boston’s versatile group, they’ve excelled. But that system took a heavy blow on March 27 when center Robert Williams left the game with an apparent knee injury.
After further testing, it was announced that Williams had suffered a torn meniscus and would require surgery. The surgery ended up going well and it was initially reported that Williams would miss 6-8 weeks. However, on the March 31 edition of The Woj Pod, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski stated that the “possibility that it’s even less than four weeks is real.”
Based on Williams’ continued optimism, things are seemingly progressing well for the big man. And on the April 8 edition of 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich, Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens gave yet another positive update on the situation:
I texted him this morning and I have not heard back. He’s doing his treatment and stuff right now. But everything up today has just been progress. Just making really good progress. I don’t know if I mentioned this the other day, but I think he was two or three days out from surgery and he was on the leg extension machine. Obviously super light. He’s walking around like he had nothing… But it does feel like he’ll be back on the court in a fairly short amount of time when you consider what it could have been.
Meniscus injuries affect every player differently. Two great examples of this are Jimmy Butler and James Wiseman. Butler tore his meniscus when on the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2018 and was back in six weeks. Meanwhile, Wiseman suffered his meniscus tear on April 10, 2021, and has yet to return to the court.
With that in mind, hearing Stevens talk so positively about Williams’ progress is amazing news. However, he also said that they have no plans to rush him back.
Celtics Being Cautious With Williams
As likely as it may seem that Williams will be back during this year’s playoffs, rushing him back into action is not the plan. Stevens explained that, while Williams is trying his best to return to the court as soon as possible, the Celtics also understand how crucial it is to think about the future, too:
He’s not going to be on the court until we feel 100 percent confident and he feels 100 percent confident that he is ready to play at a really good level. He may have to come back, whenever he comes back, and play more of a restricted role as far as minutes go. There are obviously the challenges in the task at hand, and he’s doing everything he can to get back for whenever he can get back. But there’s also the fact that this guy’s got a contract that’s four years beyond this and is a huge, huge part of our future. So, we’re going to be smart about it.
Williams inked a four-year, $54 million contract extension with the Celtics this past offseason. The deal keeps him under contract through the 2025-26 season, and the salary scales up from $10.7 million next year to roughly $13.3 million in the final season.
Importance of Williams This Season
While Stevens and the Celtics are right to think about the future, Williams is a crucial piece on both ends of the floor this season. Without him on the floor, their ceiling drops significantly.
In Udoka’s defensive system, Williams plays a sort of free safety role. Instead of guarding opposing big men, he plays off the ball, guarding the man in the corner. This allows him the freedom to play help defense as he sees fit, often roaming into the pain to block shots. Williams ranks second in the league in blocks (2.2) among players who have appeared in at least 50 games.
Getting Williams back in time for the second round of the playoffs would be a game-changer, as the Celtics would be able to execute Udoka’s defensive scheme to its fullest potential. Plus, Williams’ presence as a lob threat would give them a huge boost on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Boston only has one game left in the regular season, but they’ll get a few days of rest during the Play-In Tournament. That time will be crucial for Williams, and based on Stevens’ update, Time Lord is already making substantial progress in his recovery.