(photo cred: NBA.com)
You have no idea how badly I wanted to include this piece in my Center Watch 2019-2020 literary pipedream. Alas, this article is not ready for that theme, yet. In due time, however, Williams could see himself supplanting a big like Enes Kanter in the Celtics lineup. His performance against a stingy, we-don't-need-Kawhi-anyway team was that good.
So, what has me thinking that the 6-foot-7 utility player from Tennessee could steal minutes from a much bigger center? Brad Stevens ran multiple lineups with Williams at the 5 spot. What's more, those lineups did not cede any paint positioning or scoring. In fact, they looked remarkably switchable. Offensively, Williams proved he could battle against taller players, which brings me to the first Williams-4-the-5 Super PAC talking point.
Somehow, against both veteran and sizeable big men like Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, Williams was able to snag six offensive boards. Additionally, some of them led to more points. One of them stuck out more than the others. With the Celtics down two points late in the third quarter, Williams battled over four Raptors rebounders to not only rip down the board but, find a drifting Jayson Tatum for a triple. They regained the lead all due to Williams effort.
Perhaps just as impressive was Williams nose for the ball. The scouting report on his hoops IQ was everywhere and anywhere last draft season but it is something else to watch the former Volunteer in person. Some players have that uncanny knack to float to wherever the offensive board will be. Williams is one of those players.
He does more than position himself well on the court, however. Stevens displayed confidence in the rookie by running several dribble handoffs (DHOs) through him. Specifically, Williams seemed to have a solid rapport with Tatum, as he often ran DHOs which freed Tatum to either pull up for 3-pointers or drive the lane. An adept screener, expect these DHOs to become a primary part of the Celtics offensive game plan.
Williams also demonstrated his ability to facilitate outside of DHOs. Stevens likes to run some sets with a capable passing big around the elbow. He puts shooters in the corner for spacing. Then, two guards and the big work together to either run a series of screens or freelance a backdoor cut. On this play, Kemba Walker faked like he was going to run around a Marcus Smart screen. With the opposing big dragged out of the paint and other defenders glued to the spacers, the lane was wide open for a backdoor layup via a Williams bounce pass.
Williams made plays like this repeatedly. When Stevens used him as a super small ball center the Celtics gained maximum switchability. Williams was able to keep pace with guards like Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, demonstrating his underrated side-to-side quickness. If Williams keep up this level of play, Stevens will be forced to consider which big to relegate more frequently to the bench.