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The Robert Williams III reminder

Rob Bradford
December 20, 2018 - 10:17 am

To understand what we're dealing with when it comes to Robert Williams III we have to go back almost exactly one year.

It was on Dec. 5, 2017, in the Valley of the Sun Shootout. Texas A&M vs. Arizona. More importantly to NBA general managers in attendance, Williams vs. Deandre Ayton.

Google that matchup and you will find a litany of breakdowns and analysis. Why? Because that was supposed to be a showdown between the two top big men in the 2018 NBA Draft. That's why Danny Ainge was there. Turns out it was a worthwhile trip to Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The consensus at the time was not only was Ayton destined to become a lottery pick but so was Williams. Top 10, to be exact. And while the analysis of the matchup surfaced flaws in each player's game (with many noting how lackadaisical the Texas A&M center seemed), the game did nothing to disqualify either from top-of-the-draft consideration.

Flash forward to Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Ayton was in town as the most recent No. 1 pick in the entire draft, serving as the centerpiece for the rebuilding Suns. Williams? He was the 27th overall pick with the cool new nickname ("Time Lord") handed down because of his propensity to oversleep. The conversation regarding the pair had certainly changed since that day in Phoenix.

But thanks in large part to the broken hand suffered by Aron Baynes in the first two minutes of the Celtics' loss, we were afforded a reminder why so many cared about that game 374 days before.

"That's still the same guy. Blocking shots into the 20th row. Catching the most lobs in the world," Ayton said. "That dude is hard to get off the glass."

The Draft? What is done is done. Now Williams gets to show where teams might have gone wrong in letting him slip by. And judging by what he delivered in front of his former college foe while subbing in for Baynes, there is at least a chance he will make the most of the opportunity.

There is no doubt a long way to go for the 6-foot-10 rookie. As was noted after that game a year ago, his offensive game isn't anywhere near the likes of Ayton. And Williams does get out of position, as players with his limited NBA experience often do. But those images of blocking shots and coming off pick-and-rolls while diving to the rim has become one of the most intriguing pieces of this conundrum of a Celtics team.

“Good," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens of Williams' 24-minute, 8-point, 5-block night. "You know, and I thought that he had some opportunities on offense that he’ll make plays with when he gets a little more used to the game and used to playing with those other guys.  They were not paying a whole lot of attention to him on the perimeter and in the seams and those are plays that he can make on that end of the floor. But the defensive end, I mean, he always protects the rims for us, and I think he’s – he’s showed himself well through these first couple months of the season for maybe what I would’ve expected at the very beginning of the year. Certainly in the summer.  So that’s encouraging."

"I think that with Rob he’s 21 years old and we expect a lot out of Rob, but also there’s a learning curve for him," said Kyrie Irving. "He does a lot of great things already so I think the sky is the limit for his potential and what he brings to our team. Obviously more repetitions at this point, creating opportunities for us at the rim, as well as blocks and protecting the paint, but us as guards when we are missing guys we have to help Rob rebound while he’s contesting and trying to go for every block and our weak side and crashing in and helping him out is just as important as him going for the rebound. That’s part of being on a team where we all have to cover each other."

Williams clearly has potential. Now the Celtics have to find out just how much.

Related: Recap: Celtics fall to Suns