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Celtics select Robert Williams in NBA draft’s first round

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Texas A&M's Robert Williams celebrates on the bench during a March 18 NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina in Charlotte, N.C. The Boston Celtics selected Williams in the first round of Thursday's NBA draft. Texas A&M's Robert Williams celebrates on the bench during a March 18 NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina in Charlotte, N.C. The Boston Celtics selected Williams in the first round of Thursday's NBA draft. (AP file photo)

There were rumors of potential paradigm-shifting fireworks from the Boston Celtics on draft night, but instead, Danny Ainge had a relatively quiet evening. All that happened was that a potentially lottery-level talent dropped into their laps at the back end of the first round.

The Celtics selected Robert Williams III, a 6’ 10” big man, out of Texas A&M with the 27th overall pick. The power forward, who will likely play small-ball center in the scheme of C’s coach Brad Stevens, was considered by many to be a high-level talent – potentially top-10 talent – but personal maturity questions led him to drop, which in turn led to Boston happily scooping him up.

The 20-year-old Williams put up solid offensive numbers in his two years in College Station, averaging double digits in points, but it is his potential as a rebounder and defensive stopper that made him such a catch for the Celtics – he was a dominant defender in the SEC and led the conference in rebounding despite playing barely 25 minutes per game. He’s got a 7’ 6” wingspan and elite athleticism; he’s big enough to guard bigs and quick enough to guard guards.

It’s the defensive prowess that makes Williams such an appealing option; he’s ferocious on the boards and capable of covering almost anybody. His offensive game lags behind, but the reality is that he probably won’t need to do much more than finish at the basket after his sharpshooting teammates spread the floor and find him down low.

Athletes like Williams don’t drop so precipitously without a reason; there are a number of red flags surrounding Williams both on and off the court. He’s been suspended for unspecified violations of team rules and even managed to oversleep for his introductory conference call to the Boston media. However, the Celtics must feel like their combination of coach and culture will be enough to help steer an obviously-talented kid toward success.

Things could have been different. Considering the amount of draft capital that Ainge has amassed in recent years – while their own picks likely won’t be anything too spectacular considering how good the team looks going forward, the Celtics possess Sacramento’s first-round pick via Philadelphia (protected for the No. 1 overall pick); a pick from the Memphis Grizzlies that is top eight-protected in 2019, top-six protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021; and a first-rounder from the Los Angeles Clippers in 2019 or 2020 that conveys if the Clippers make the playoffs in either of those two seasons – a lot of pundits expected Boston to make some noise in terms of draft day trades.

And word is they almost did.

Ainge and the Celtics reached out to a few teams before the draft in an effort to climb into the lottery, but for whatever reason, none of those conversations yielded any fruit. The temptation to cash in on their wealth of assets – Boston could potentially be looking at as many as four picks in next year’s first round – must have been great, but despite appearances, Ainge isn’t a GM who looks to make deals for the sake of making them.

And lest we forget, this is a team that made it all the way to the Easter Conference Finals this year despite losing big-time free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward just minutes into his Celtics career and star point guard Kyrie Irving after just 60 games or so. Even without their consensus two best players, Boston made a deep playoff run. Just adding Irving and Hayward back into the mix will do far more than any draft pick could.

As far as how the top of the draft actually played out? Arizona center Deandre Ayton went to the Suns with the first pick. At two, Sacramento took Duke forward Marvin Bagley III in a move that had some scratching their heads. Atlanta took European phenom Luka Doncic and dealt him to the Mavericks for their fifth pick – Oklahoma point guard Trae Young – and a future pick. In between, Memphis took Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson fourth. The rest of the top-10 included: Texas center Mo Bamba to the Magic; Duke center Wendell Carter to the Bulls; Alabama guard Collin Sexton to the Cavaliers; Kentucky small forward Kevin Knox to the Knicks; and Villanova forward Mikael Bridges to the 76ers (who subsequently traded him to the Suns for Texas Tech forward Zhaire Smith and a future first-round pick).

Boston’s track record in the draft has been checkered in recent years, but in terms of potential value, the 2018 draft played out about as well as they could have hoped. Now, it’s up to Robert Williams. Here’s hoping he learns how to set an alarm.

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