With the final two months of the Celtics season set to kick off on Friday night in Minnesota, there are plenty of intriguing subplots surrounding this squad in the wake of a stellar start to the 2019-20 campaign. What should Celtics fans be watching for as the stakes are raised over the final 28 games of the regular season? Here’s a closer exploration of five questions that will have a significant impact down the stretch for the team, both now and in the future.
1. What can Robert Williams give the Celtics?
The big man has not played in a game in 2020, sitting out over three months of action (Dec. 6 was his last game played) as he recovers from a bone edema in his left hip that was officially diagnosed on Dec. 16. The Celtics training staff have taken a cautious approach with the 22-year-old to increase the odds he’s available for the stretch run and that hope may be coming to fruition in the coming weeks. Williams was cleared for full workouts just before the All-Star Break and Brad Stevens said he will be taking part in full practice starting on Wednesday.
“There was no limit on my jumps,” Williams told reporters in Oklahoma City last week of his first full workout post-injury. “I could dunk as much as I want, run as much as I want. It’s really like the first time they haven’t been telling me I can’t jump, or you only get 20 jumps a day or something. So just being as explosive as I remember I was is just a great feeling.”
The team will continue to take its time easing Williams back into action over the next few weeks but the end of the tunnel appears near for the second-year center.
“I think we’re still shooting around March 1, give or take a few days here or there,” Danny Ainge said on The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich last week of a potential return timetable. “But I think that’s still a target date.”
While there’s no question that the C’s have found their groove without Williams in the fold, they also did manage an impressive 14-5 record when he was healthy in the first two months of the season. Daniel Theis has solidified himself as a starting center for this group but Enes Kanter has looked hobbled with a hip injury in recent weeks while Vincent Poirier has failed to emerge as a reliable option at center. With foul trouble looming as a continuous issue for bigs like Theis and Grant Williams, Rob Williams should give Brad Stevens an athletic rim running and shot-blocking alternative for certain matchups.
Williams is averaging 3.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game this season but a closer look at his on/off numbers showed the Celtics have actually been better defensively when he’s off the floor (albeit in a limited sample size of 269 minutes), largely due to Williams’ propensity to gamble for blocks, leaving himself out of position. Can Williams stay healthy and get closer to the defensive potential that has the Celtics’ brass giddy about his future? Or will the team be better off with going with Theis/Kanter/Grant Williams at center most nights? One of Brad Stevens’ biggest priorities will be to figure out in March how much he can count on Rob Williams to contribute to that mix.
2. Do the Celtics add a free agent on the buyout market?
While NBA players must be waived by their current team and become free agents by March 1st in order to be playoff eligible with a new team, there is no hard deadline for the Celtics to add a body to their roster for the postseason until the end of the regular season. That’s not to say they will wait that long to make an upgrade. Some names (Tristan Thompson) will be targets immediately if they are bought out, even though the C’s will be heavy competition for a big like that. The C’s may be patient in adding to their depth chart depending on how things look over the next month. The health and effectiveness of