Could injuries prevent Rob Williams from being the Celtics starting center?
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Earlier today, the Celtics announced that Rob “Timelord” Williams was questionable for tomorrow night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Williams has missed six straight games with “left knee soreness,” a rather vague diagnosis that is concerning for a young big man whose game revolves around athleticism. For the rest of the season, the opportunity remains for Williams to be the Celtics starting center as long as he’s healthy. When Timelord is in the starting line-up, he’s averaged 10.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.0 blocks in just over 25 minutes per game, according to RotoWire.com. This production has been in a small ten game sample size, followed by Williams’ six game absence, which is where we are now.
In his rookie season, Fred Katz of MassLive.com reported that Williams suffered from an artery condition in both of his legs called “popliteal artery entrapment syndrome.” While I’m no medical expert, a quick Google search told me that this issue can require surgery if it worsens. As far as I know, Williams hasn’t had surgery for the condition, but it feels like this is just a continuation to where we are now with Williams’ current injury concerns. Williams acknowledged that he suffers from the condition, but an acknowledgement of the issue isn’t necessarily a solution. Last season, Williams suffered from a bone edema in his left hip, or a buildup of fluid caused by stress or arthritis in the area. This injury was only curable through rest, and limited Williams to only 29 games in his second season. And to top it all off, Williams was also one of the Celtics players confirmed to contract COVID-19 this season, which is just another ailment in a growing list. It’s unarguable that the injury bug has followed Williams throughout the entirety of his young career, a concerning trend that now has continued into this season.
Earlier this year, the Celtics reported that they were limiting Williams’ minutes to preemptively maintain his hip with the hope that he would be able to play more later in the season. While this was a smart idea in theory, a (possibly) new ailment has caused Williams to reemerge on the injury report. The Celtics have been especially vague about the specifics of Williams current injury, and while he has suited up for a career high 47 games this season, he’s still only played in 108 regular season games in his nearly three years in the NBA.
I fully believe that Williams has the talent to be the Celtics’ starting center of the future, but his injury history is concerning. Even with Williams in the lineup, the Celtics are thin at the five position this season. Tristan Thompson is a serviceable backup, who can start at center if needed for the Celtics, but behind him there is little else, aside from a few fan favorites. Trade deadline acquisition Luke Kornet can play some backup minutes at the five for the C’s, but he realistically shouldn’t be a regular player in the playoffs. Behind Kornet on the depth chart is two-way contract player Tacko Fall, who still is only ready for Gino Time minutes at this point in his career.
A regular Williams/Thompson playoff rotation is essential for the Celtics to make a playoff run, especially in an Eastern Conference with legit big men. If the Celtics were to draw a matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers and MVP candidate Joel Embiid, I don’t know if anyone on the Celtics could stop the Process. Williams failed to have an impact in his last matchup against Embiid and the 76ers, as he fouled out in only 14 minutes. This matchup issue aside, it’s still concerning that the Celtics have done everything that they can to ensure Williams is ready to take the starting center mantle, only for him to be injured again after only ten starts. They limited his minutes early on, they put credible big men around him for most of his career until he was ready to start, and they’re finally giving him a chance to start now, only for it to backfire come the end of the regular season. I’m hopeful that Williams will overcome these injury concerns, but they are significant, especially as the regular season rapidly comes to an end and Williams remains on the injury report.