Robert Williams, the Boston Celtics’ first-round draft pick from last month, didn’t start Friday, but it didn’t matter.
Shortly after checking in with 6:45 remaining in the first quarter, he got to work. Williams slammed in a shot with 4:20 left, knocked down a 16-foot turnaround jumper with 3:31 to go and flew in for a defensive rebound 18 seconds after that.
He didn’t get to show much more than that, however, injuring his left knee and departing for the rest of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
What he showed in his brief time on the Thomas & Mack Center court was the lottery-like talent the Celtics knew they were getting as a possible late-round steal.
“He’s explosive,” said Jay Larranaga, the Celtics’ NBA Summer League coach. “We’re excited about Robert obviously. That’s why we drafted him. He’s diligent in trying to pick up our system. We’ve just got to get him feeling good physically, and I think he has a bright future.”
Larranaga said he didn’t know the extent of Williams’ injury, though it isn’t believed to be serious. Williams said he would have a better idea Saturday after resting the knee.
That the 6-foot, 10-inch post player was playing well in his Summer League debut made the timing of the injury particularly difficult to handle.
“It was definitely frustrating, my first NBA game,” Williams said. “I obviously wanted to be out there with my guys and support them, but there’s a long road ahead of me.”
His athletic ability is not in question. The concerns were about his attitude, which torpedoed his draft standing. The Celtics, who are favored to win the Eastern Conference next season, had the luxury of being table to take a flier on Williams at No. 27 in the first round out of Texas A&M.
If Williams can be the player who showed the glimmers of promise in the 95-89 victory over the 76ers, he could play an important part in the Celtics’ hopes of trying to at least reach the NBA Finals.
The red flags that followed Williams into the draft, however, didn’t go away after his selection.
After being drafted, he overslept a conference call with reporters and missed the flight for the team’s first Summer League practice, which caused him to not make that workout.
Harsh criticism came about for Williams from within Boston and well beyond.
He said he took it upon himself “to just absorb everything, the good and the bad, know what to do and what not to do, follow the right people. I’m led by good vets, Al Horford, (Aron) Baynes. I’m just trying to learn the right path to have a successful career.”
The knee injury is the latest setback, and the hope is Williams’ time at the Summer League isn’t over.
Maybe he can earn some goodwill with a strong return, and the flashes he showed against Philadelphia will become more consistent.
“It felt good being back on the court again in an organized game,” Williams said. “It’s definitely faster, stronger. It’s the NBA. I’m built for the NBA, in my perspective, so I feel like I was just getting back in the rhythm of playing the game again.”
File on Robert Williams
Team: Boston Celtics
Draft: No. 27 in the first round out of Texas A&M
Size: 6 feet, 10 inches, 241 pounds