Before training camp started, there was no player on the Celtics roster with a longer road to consistent playing time than Robert Williams. Brad Stevens likes to play small and Williams had two true centers in front of him in Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis, making the prospect of rotation minutes for the rookie a bit of a pipe dream.
Less than three months later, Williams is set to be a constant presence in the big man rotation as the injuries up front have piled up in a hurry.
Baynes is out for at least a month with a broken left hand suffered during Wednesday’s loss to the Suns. Al Horford is inching closer to a return but is still dealing with a bout of Patellofemoral pain syndrome that has caused him to miss seven straight games. Even when he comes back, his minutes will need to stay down. Guerschon Yabusele is out for at least another few weeks with a sprained ankle and that puts Boston’s list of true healthy bigs down to two: Williams and Theis.
Theis is the more proven commodity at this point but his ability to stay in games for bigger minutes is a major question mark for this team given his propensity to foul. He’s among the league leaders in foul rate (7.4 fouls per 36 minutes) and looks just a bit slower than last season in the aftermath of a torn meniscus and a plantar fascia injury. He also has been subpar on the defensive glass (grabbing 15.2 percent of defensive rebounds) which is a number that resembles a small forward more than a center.
All of these issues led to Williams getting the call over Theis during crunch time on Wednesday in the midst of posting eight points, eight rebounds and five blocks over 24 minutes. The glimpses of magnificence were there, as they have been over the past couple weeks, with Williams’ rim protection and finishing around the rim (4-of-4 from field) on full display. There are still plenty of warts to be dealt with, as is the case for any 21-year-old rookie, but Williams is clearly giving the C’s enough positives right now to allow him to work through those.
The silver lining of Baynes’ injury right now