Rising Celtic in Driver’s Seat for Year-End Award: A ‘Lurking Nightmare’

Robert Williams, Boston Celtics

Getty Robert Williams, Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics’ defense has been the story of their season thus far, with the team sitting second for defensive rating on the season.

There have been improvements from players throughout the roster, but no one’s defense has taken a leap like Robert Williams, who has been hovering around the top-5 in blocks since opening night.

People have been talking about the Louisiana native’s shot-blocking ability since he entered the league. More recently, the discussion has shifted towards Ime Udoka’s genius move of playing the Timelord in a “free safety” role.

So, with Williams’ adjustments to not bite on every pump-fake and Udoka’s repositioning of the big man’s defensive responsibilities, we’ve begun to see the rise of an elite rim protector in Boston and the rest of the NBA is taking notice as a result.

Williams’ Listed as Potential DPOY Candidate

In a recent article from The Ringer, Williams is listed as the “defensive player of the quarter,” meaning that he’s been the shining light for defensive impact and versatility over the last few months.

“Opponents shot just 42.3 percent against Williams at the rim in Q3, according to Second Spectrum’s tracking, the stingiest mark of any player to defend at least 25 up-close attempts. He was a monster away from the rim, too, holding his assignments to an anemic 36.4 percent shooting overall in Q3, nearly 11 points below their season average—the largest differential in the league among 254 players who made at least 10 appearances in the quarter,” Dan Devine wrote.

As of February 13, Williams was listed among the top-eight contenders for Defensive Player of the Year honors by the NBA. If his play continues at its current level after the All-Star break, there’s every reason to see his stock climbing higher in the coming months.

For clarity, the other seven players currently in contention for DPOY honors are;

  • Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz
  • Dejounte Murray of the San Antonio Spurs
  • Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Jaren Jackson Jr of the Memphis Grizzlies
  • Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns

Williams is Finally Fulfilling His Potential

When the Celtics originally acquired Williams with the 27th pick in the 2018 draft, they took a flyer on a young center with elite athleticism and a nouse for swatting away shot attempts at the rim.

Despite his early career injury issues, Williams regularly drew comparisons with Clint Capela, primarily due to his effectiveness as a rim runner and ability to space the floor with his lob threat. Of course, Capela always seemed to be the definitive version of Williams, and many saw that level of play as the big man’s developmental ceiling.

Yet, over the last two seasons, Williams has displayed signs of becoming an elite passer from the center position and has redefined himself on the defensive end. He is now firmly in the discussion of best rim-runners in the NBA.

Hopefully, as the 2021-22 season enters its final months, Williams can stay injury-free and press ahead with his development. Because there’s still plenty of room for the young center to grow, and if he ultimately fails in his bid for Defensive Player of the Year honors this season, that will be more fuel to the fire heading into next season and beyond.


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Martin Bakal
Martin Bakal
1 year ago

The other reason the Capela analogy is wrong is R Williams FTs. He is now shooting at over 70%. In a few years I could see him regularly hitting 15-20 foot jumpers. This is something Capela never has done.

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