The Boston Celtics have put their slow start to the season behind them in recent weeks, and now look to be a vastly superior unit compared to the one we saw in late October and early November.
No longer are they surrendering big leads or getting punched in the mouth shortly after opening tip-off. Part of the team’s uptick is certainly down to the roster being healthy for the first time this year, but another aspect is the Celtics shift in mentality, which has been on display for the past month or so.
“Sick of losing. Sick of going out like that. Sick of having the disgusting taste in your mouth. Checking each other as far as, like Jaylen Brown telling me ‘you gotta sit down on defense.’ Or I’ll tell JB, ‘hey, stop losing him.’ Not giving negative responses when you receive criticism, I feel like we’ve been doing a great job of that,” Robert Williams said in a recent press conference following the Celtics victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Of course, head coach Ime Udoka switching to an eight or nine-man rotation has also helped, as the Celtics are now leaning on their veteran talents to see games through, and saving developmental minutes for when a contest is out of reach.
Veteran Leadership Also Helping Boston’s Mentality
Towards the end of the 2020-21 NBA Season, a common theme among fans was that the Celtics needed additional veteran leadership to help guide a youthful roster through some of the trials and tribulations of a full season.
Upon moving into his front-office role, Brad Stevens added Al Horford, Dennis Schroder, and Josh Richardson, signaling that he also felt the team needed more veteran voices in the locker room.
“Our older guys are doing a great job of, before games in the locker room, keeping great energy and talking to us. JB, Smart, Al, all of them are doing a great job preparing us before we even go out on the court. So when you got your main players fired up and they’re talking in your ear you gotta follow their lead,” Williams said.
Richardson, who joined the Celtics from the Dallas Mavericks in the off-season, has been one of the team’s more consistent performers off the bench, and his quiet style of leadership has helped steady the ship when Boston’s second unit is under siege. Of course, both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have also been tasked with emerging as leading voices in the locker room given their star status, and by all accounts, they’re evolving in that role.
Williams Emerging as a Top Center in the NBA
Throughout Williams’ first few years in the league, you could be forgiven for considering him a draft bust due to his injury issues. Similar to Romeo Langford, Williams spent more time in the treatment room than he did on the court.
However, after an impactful stint in the starting line-up towards the end of last season, Williams proved he was capable of being the Celtics starting big-man of the future. Sure, he’s never going to reach the level of Nikola Jokic or Anthony Davis, but he is on the way to being in the “best of the rest” conversation.
This season, Williams’ first full year as a starter, he is averaging 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and two assists per game, and there’s still plenty of room for growth. In fact, one of the more underrated aspects of the big man’s game is his passing ability, and recently there have been calls for Udoka to run more offense through the Louisana native due to how quickly he makes decisions with the ball in his hands.
Of course, there’s still more developing left for Williams, who at the age of 24 is still a few years away from his prime. And should he add a mid-range jump shot to his offensive arsenal, he will become borderline unguardable, while some post-moves also wouldn’t go amiss.
Overall, the Celtics are hitting their stride at the right time, and the growing consensus is that the entire roster is embracing some form of leadership role, and it won’t be long before we’re putting Williams’ name in that “team leader” conversation either.