While most Celtic talk seems to center on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Rob Williams bandwagon is gaining passengers at nearly every stop along his 2021-22 route. Some significant passengers, too.
Dave Cowens — two-time NBA champion, league MVP, eight-time All-Star, 1991 Hall of Fame inductee and member of the 75th Anniversary team — is a fan. The Celtic legend had called to check in, and after nearly an hour on the state of the universe, the conversation turned to the Celts. Timelord was his first pass.
“I’ve enjoyed seeing the improvement of the big guy, Rob Williams,” Cowens said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching him get better. And what it tells me is that he takes the game seriously, and he wants to get better and he’s a pro. That’s what I like about him. He’s really effective.
“I also think he’s learning a lot from Horford,” he added, referencing Williams’ inside amigo, 11 years his senior. “I’ve always liked Al because of his skill set and that he’s not afraid to mix it up. And neither one of those guys bitch and moan about anything. They just sort of take the game as it is and try to be good team players. But you don’t see them complaining to the referees or something like that as much as some other guys. They both have good attitudes. And they complement Tatum and Brown, who have the ball quite a bit.”
Williams Has Been Running the Floor
Among that which Cowens appreciates in both Williams and Horford is their ability and willingness to run the floor and find their own openings.
“If you’re a big guy, especially today, you’re going to get a lot of your points off missed shots,” he said. “If you like to rebound, you like to be in the middle of everything, that’s the place to go. That’s how you get there is by getting up ahead and moving people around. Guys can’t hit you or screen you out as easily, so you’ve got more mobility. And those two guys are pretty mobile and they’ve got good hands. They just seem to have a real knack for the game.
“I’m impressed with the young guy in terms of his ability to get to the right spot to get open. He slides and he knows how to take advantage of the openings that are presented to him. So I’ve seen a lot of improvement. He’s a big reason why they’re able to maintain offensive continuity.”
Continuity was a large problem for the Celtics earlier in the season, and they still have to fight to stay away from isolation ball. Better movement has created better results.
“I think what the coach has done is to talk about, okay, you two guys or three guys don’t have to have the ball all the time to win,” Cowens said. “You can play off the ball a lot, and as long as we get the ball in your hands at the end of the shot clock is the key.
“It’s like when the Bulls had Jordan and Pippen. You know, they mess around with that triangle, that triple post offense, but 10 seconds, eight seconds left to go on the clock, who had the ball? Jordan and Pippen. They were the finishers.
“They moved the ball all over the place and gave everybody a chance to pretend like they were part of the offense,” Cowens added with a laugh. “No, really, you have to keep everyone involved.
“But they Celtics have good people who have a good work ethic. They’ve obviously got the two guys that can really score in Tatum and Brown, and they’ve got a lot of good people around them, so they’ve got good depth and got some experience now. I think they’ve got a chance to be really good. I mean they’ve been rolling over people. They haven’t just been beating them, they’ve been beating them by a lot, so it tells you something this time of the year that they’re able to do that. And I don’t see anybody else that’s terribly strong in the East that you could just write them in and say, yeah, they’re a lock to make it.”
‘Rob’s Good at Taking Advantage of That’
However, Cowens is ready to write in Williams for bigger things. In terms of comparison, Cowens was more of a threat from 15 to 18 feet, though he acknowledged Rob has the mechanics for such a shot and just hasn’t been asked to take it. The two share an affinity for getting on the floor for loose balls.
But when I suggested to Cowens he probably can’t identify so much with Williams’ ability to convert lobs into jams, he laughed and said, “What do you mean by that?
“Actually, there wasn’t too much lob-throwing in my day, because there were too many people in the way. Now it’s so spread out. You know, if we’d have practiced them, it wouldn’t have been any problem. It wasn’t like we couldn’t get elbows at the rim. But it just wasn’t part of the play and what was going on. In other words, you didn’t get that opportunity because the guards weren’t able to get into the paint unmolested and bring that big guy over to him. Now it’s like it’s so wide open that you’re always getting the big guy defensively into a position where he’s got to go get a point guard, and so he’s stuck between. Is a guy going to go to the paint, is he going to do a floater or is he got to do a lob?
“Rob’s good at taking advantage of that. And at the other end, defensively, there’s not a lot of big guys, very few, that have the ability to stay on their man when they have to go help on penetration — to stay on their man long enough and still bother the shot. He’s really good at that.”
It’s fortunate for Cowens that his 1970s Celtic teams didn’t have lobs in their offense. He could have injured his elbows badly on the rim.
“Well, at least mid-forearm,” he said.