How Robert Williams III’s ‘out of this world’ talents can help Celtics

What will the Boston Celtics gain with Robert Williams III expected to debut in 2022-23? season Friday night against the Orlando Magic? We’ll let fellow Boston great Luke Cornette lay it out.

“His insane athleticism,” Cornett said. “Defensively, he’s just unbelievable, and for what we do, he’s so important and out of this world. Offensively, just sharing the ball. I feel like he’s a great fit with how we just played moving the ball, trusting each other and that was never an issue with Rob. So he really adds an element to our team. And on a personal level it would be great to have him back.

Cornett remembers being a senior at Vanderbilt and marveling at Williams III’s raw potential after crossing paths with the Time Lord during his freshman season at Texas A&M. When Cornett arrived in Boston last season, he was blown away by what he saw from Williams III.

“You see things that literally no one else in the world can,” Kornet said.

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In short, that’s what makes Williams III’s return so important to the Celtics. He is one of a kind. The Celtics’ league-leading defense shifted into another gear last season after Williams III settled into the safety role and wreaked havoc with his size and athleticism. Combine that with his superior offensive ways, and Williams III makes the Celtics more dynamic when he’s on the floor.

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Getting Williams III back is a pretty absurd luxury for a team already sitting atop the NBA. Boston’s defense has already stepped up in recent weeks, ranking 8th in defensive rating. But there’s another level to rise to when Williams III roams the floor. He deters when guards drive to the rim, he can rebound to shots and contest 3-pointers, and Boston’s block percentage will increase for him back on the floor.

For a Boston team that has been undersized for a long stretch to start the season, Williams III will add much-needed size and rebounding. Williams III can push the pace with a relentless desire to push the ball up court or create open looks in the high post on half-court sets. The Celtics will lose some shots in some lineups, but the threat of Williams III rolling freely to the rim will ensure defenders don’t stray far from his side.

It’s unwise to expect much from Williams III as he recovers. The Celtics have an opportunity to slowly bring him along and he can play in small chunks as he returns. The ultimate goal is simply to get him used to a starting lineup that dominated opponents last season and regain confidence from an injured knee.

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The ceiling for the Celtics, already championship-caliber, rises once again with the return of Williams III.

“We made the first attack and we are playing well on this side. “Obviously, our defense has relaxed a little bit, but we’re coming back and getting there,” Marcus Smart said. “Adding him is only going to put us over the top. We know what a defender Rob is, what Rob is, what a playmaker Rob is, the threat he is to the defense.

“It’s just going to help our game tremendously. It’s going to help us defensively, we’re going to be able to fill in even more, feel more comfortable getting up in front of guys and pressuring them and messing up opposing defenders. So Rob’s a special talent.”

In case you need a reminder of Williams III’s potential impact: He ranked in the 100th percentile among all bigs, scoring 149.3 points per 100 shots last season, according to Cleaning the Glass. Williams III shot 79 percent at the rim and 73.6 percent overall. Last year, he blocked 3.7 percent of all shots in his time on the court, which was actually down a full percentage point from the previous two seasons, but still near the top of all big men.

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Williams III had a +10.0 for the Celtics in 1,804 minutes last season. Among players who played at least 750 minutes, he trailed only Jayson Tatum (+12.1) in Boston.

When he was back in San Francisco last week, Williams III said watching the Celtics start the season so hot didn’t make it any easier to be on the floor.

“I want much more. Much more willing,” Williams III said. “It’s just the love of the game, it doesn’t die depending on how your team is doing. It’s always with you.”

Williams III wore a massive brace on his left knee during his return. He said it’s not as thick or bulky as it looks. That won’t deter him from his usual gravity-defying ways.

There will definitely be rust in the beginning. Williams III looked overwhelmed even in three-on-three work as he regained his feet underneath. But he knows he can help this team.

And the Celtics need a healthy Williams III to reach their championship potential.


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