By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- In another timeline, Robert Williams III is probably an NBA superstar. But in this timeline, the man known as Timelord remains a rotational big man with big potential.
Williams, heading into his third year with the Celtics, believes that potential is about to come out in the form of a monster year for Boston.
"I honestly feel like I'll make a great jump this year, for myself and my team," Williams said Tuesday, his first chat with reporters of the 2020-21 season.
Visions of Williams being a dominant defensive force have danced in the heads of Celtics fans since the center was drafted 28th overall in 2018. But injuries, ineffectiveness and a slew of veterans in front of him on the depth chart have limited Williams to just 77 games as a pro. He's been a giant mixed bag of production, ranging from a game-changing shot-blocker to a deer in headlights.
But he's predicting big things in his immediate future, ready to show he's more than just a fun nickname. It has started with a new focus in training camp, with the 23-year-old turning up his volume on the court. The soft-spoken Williams a much more vocal presence when he's out there, focused on all the ways that he can make his teammates better.
"I feel like the first few days of practice for me have been good. I feel like I've been great vocally," he said. "I feel like I'm stepping up in that aspect, and all around with conditioning, locking in on my teammates and slowing the game down. Really, most of all, keying in on what all my teammates' strengths are. I feel like I'm doing good."
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said that Williams has been a victim of circumstance, both because of his injuries and the veterans. Al Horford and Aron Baynes were Boston's starters during Williams' rookie season, but he remained with the Celtics to provide some insurance in case those bigs went down with an injury. That cost him some valuable time with Boston's G League affiliate in Maine. There were high hopes for his season NBA season, but a hip injury had Williams limited him to just 29 games.
But Williams started to show flashes of greatness when the NBA bubble season tipped off in Orlando, and he had some impressive stretches during Boston's postseason run. From what Stevens has seen from Williams in practice, that solid showing in Orlando was no fluke.
"He worked really hard and last year he worked out great. Went through 40 or 50 games where he wasn't available due to injury, then he played well in the playoffs," Stevens said Tuesday. "Especially in the Toronto series. He's backed that up with his first couple of days of practice."
And while Williams may have lost out on some on-court learning during his rookie season, he made the most of his time on the bench by watching everything that Horford and Baynes were doing. Both veterans taught the youngster a lot, even if they didn't know they were doing so.
"In all honesty, they just really taught me how to be a pro," said Williams. "Not even just having conversations with them, it was just the every-day life. Like Baynes, he's going to come in and get his work in and do his job. Al, he's going to come in and show you what a pro is supposed to do. I watched those guys a lot without them knowing. A lot, a lot without them even knowing."
Now heading into the 2020-21 season, Williams has an opportunity to shine. He's happy to have veteran big man Tristan Thompson on board, giving him another voice to learn from. But with Thompson nursing a hamstring injury at the moment, the door is open for Williams to get more playing time early in the season.
We've seen that Williams can be an offense-destroying presence at the rim, and he can rock it on the other side with some thunderous dunks. Now he just has to put it all together and be consistent whenever he's on the floor. If Williams can have the strong season that we've all been waiting for, Boston's depth at center could turn into a strength for the team.
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