NBA Execs See Key Trade Helping Celtics ‘Survive’ Timelord Williams’ Injury

Robert Williams, Boston Celtics

Getty Robert Williams securing the basketball against the Toronto Raptors.

The news that the Boston Celtics will be without Robert Williams is still fresh in every fan’s mind.

The 24-year-old center has been ruled out indefinitely due to a meniscus tear, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Boston is now without their first choice big man, and as a result, their chances of making a deep playoff run have taken a significant blow.

According to an NBA executive, who spoke to Heavy.com on the condition of anonymity, the Celtics have been mindful of this potential outcome for some time.

“I think there was a real sense that they were going to need some depth up front all along. This was the worst-case scenario, but with Rob Williams’ history, you have to be afraid of it.

When they were looking to move (Dennis) Schroder in February, they had some pretty good offers for guards and wings but they wanted to make sure they used that asset to get a big guy back. A lot of their people hoped they could do better than Theis but he wound up being their best option,” The executive said.

Daniel Theis, 30, is back with the Celtics for his second spell on the roster, and while he’s not as impactful as Williams, he is a versatile big man off the bench who can help the team in a plethora of ways, both on offense and defense.


Another NBA Executive Has Their Say

Not everybody is writing off Boston’s chances of a successful post-season, however, most people are in agreement that their path to the conference finals is now far tougher than it could have been.

Another NBA executive discussed Boston’s potential route to the conference finals or NBA finals and shared their thoughts on the condition of anonymity.

“They can survive this, definitely through the first round. But the second round, it is going to depend on the matchup. Philadelphia, obviously, that is tough. But Milwaukee or Miami? The Celtics can still matchup up with them with what they’ve got. Not that they’ll definitely win, just that it affects those matchups less. The Bucks were always going to be a hard matchup for Boston because of Giannis. That’s not changing.

But Theis can hold his own. He is 30 and he kind of an old 30, he does not move as well as he did a couple of years ago. It is tough having him out there with Al Horford, that’s two guys who are too slow. But Grant Williams has made really good strides, and if you’re starting him and Horford and giving Theis 25, 26 minutes and you’re playing some small-ball, you can get to the conference finals with the right matchups. But to get to the Finals, they would need a fast comeback from Williams,” The executive told Heavy.com.

As the executive pointed out, the Celtics aren’t going to be over-reliant on Theis. The growth of Grant Williams as a floor spacer (he’s shooting 42.1% from three this season per Basketball-Reference) and as a switchable defender, means that Udoka has options that fit his brand of basketball.

Of course, the team also has Luke Kornet on their roster, and while the seven-foot-two center isn’t at the same level as the team’s other big men, he is a viable rim protector, and is a capable three-point shooter, hitting 32.6% from deep over 143 career games, per Basketball-Reference.


Theis Will Likely Come Off the Bench

While everybody is expecting Theis to replace William’s workload, it’s unlikely he will do so from the starting lineup. Throughout the season, Udoka has opted to slide Grant Williams into a starting role whenever one of the team’s starting bigs has been unavailable to play.

In fact, the third-year combo-big has started 18 of the 70 games he’s participated in this season, more than his first two seasons combined. Don’t be fooled though, just because Theis is coming off the bench, doesn’t mean his contributions aren’t going to be integral to the Celtics’ chances of success.

Without Williams, Boston is short on size and will be forced to stagger their big’s minutes if they wish to remain competitive for entire games. This means that starting Williams alongside Al Horford, and then bringing Theis off the bench is the most logical move.

The fifth-year big man will provide excellent movement for Boston’s second unit, and is likely to form a pick-and-roll partnership with both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown – because that is where Theis is at his best. It’s also worth noting that Theis was the team’s starting center when they went to the conference finals during the 2019-20 playoffs – the season where the NBA completed play in the bubble. Although, the Celtics did wind up losing that series to the Miami Heat.

The downside to not having an athlete in the same mold as Williams is that Boston’s offensive rebounding and rim protection are going to suffer (the Timelord is ranked second in blocks per game and fourth in offensive rebounds per game,) so Udoka will need to adjust his gameplans accordingly.

While Theis might not be the most glamorous choice to operate as Williams’ understudy, he is indeed a steady hand, and right now, the Celtics’ decision to bring him back for a second spell in Boston is looking like a masterstroke. Let’s hope it stays that way.

 

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