How Robert Williams has refined his shot-blocking ability

Nick Friar
October 04, 2019 - 8:00 am
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Two Celtics averaged a team-high 1.3 blocks per game in 2018-19. One of those two logged 29 minutes a night in the 68 games he played. The same individual now plays for the 76ers. Yes, it’s Al Horford.

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The other only appeared in 32 games and averaged 8.8 minutes. Which means his blocks per 36 minutes (5.1) and per 100 possessions (6.8) were significantly better than Horford's — and everyone else’s for that matter.

By the way, the other player is Robert Williams — in case it wasn’t already obvious.

Now, Time Lord’s gaudy per 36 and per 100 averages are impressive, but by no means do they indicate he’s going to block five times the amount of shots he did last year if Brad Stevens gives him a significant increase in minutes. (Mark Eaton is the only player to ever average five or more blocks per game over an entire NBA season. He averaged 5.56 in 1984-85, playing in all 82 games for the Jazz.)

That being said, Williams has the ability to be one of the NBA’s better shot-blockers. And a good shot-blocker, of course, doesn’t solely alter the shots he gets a hand on.

If Williams does really well, some teams might even have to change how they approach attacking the rim when he’s on the floor — which can lead to more bad shot attempts.

But it’s not a secret he can protect the rim. Opponents found out as the 2018-19 season went along, Williams can guard an opponent at the basket 1-on-1 and he can fly over from the weak side to swat a layup 15 rows deep. The element of surprise was an advantage.

Like anything else, Williams needs to adjust.

Everyone knows a solid pump fake is the best way to combat someone like Williams. Then, ideally, draw contact, get to the line and get the Celtics’ best rim protector in trouble quickly.

Fortunately for Williams, he has teammates who can help him prepare for opponents planning to take that approach.

“Jayson (Tatum) and Gordon (Hayward) are great scorers. Obviously, they know how well I block shots, so I get to go through those trials with them,” Williams told WEEI.com. “Guarding Gordon — in my opinion, Gordon has one of the best pump fakes in the league. Guarding that pump fake, guarding Jayson’s pump fake, just dealing with them before the season starts, I feel like (those are) good reps.”

Additionally, covering both wings provides Williams the opportunity to further his game beyond rim protector. Because if he’s going to handle those two in practice or players of their ilk in games — which is likely to happen in the pick-and-roll-heavy NBA — Williams has to be able to hang out around the perimeter.

“If I switch on those guys I try to dial in because, like I said, they’re great threats on offense,” Williams said. “And I’m going to see a lot of players like them later on in the season.

“I want to be able to cover all parts of the court. But that just comes with repetition. Like I said, playing against great guys (is) preparing me for when it happens in a real game.”

Maybe Williams will be able to take care of more than one thing Horford was good at.