BOSTON – When we think of centers in the NBA today, there is much more diversity in play styles compared to 10 years ago. We see superstars now a days like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, players that see long grueling minutes and leading their teams to playoff runs.
We see more young players coming into the league with complete skill sets like Embiid and Jokic. Guys that can shoot from outside, make plays out of double teams, and get up and down the floor for 8-10 minute shifts.
While these guys are indispensable parts of their team, the stereotypical “old school” center can still exist and be impactful to a teams success.
A perfect example: Robert Williams lll
Coming off an All-Defensive second team selection and career highs across the board, Williams was a vital part of the Celtics success last season. Unlike some of the superstar centers in the league, Williams has a more traditional big play style. His limited offensive play style is made up for by his crazy athleticism.
As Williams has grown into himself and matured over the years, he understands how he can impact the game where nobody else on the Celtics can.
Ever heard of PIE? Player Impact Estimate (PIE) is a metric that gauges a player’s all around contribution to a game. Of all full time starters last season, Williams ranked 18th at 14.0, ranking just below Jayson Tatum at 15.9. Impressive for a guy who never plays over 30 minutes. When he is out there, his presence is felt by both teams.
In 61 games played this season, Williams was dominant on the boards. Grabbing almost five contested rebounds per game at a 51% clip, ranking second among starters in the NBA. Blocking shots seem to come easy to him as well, finishing 3rd in the league in blocks. Time Lord was one of the most intimidating big men down low last season.
The ironic thing about Rob Williams, is that his most unique ability, doesn’t even exist in the paint.
When defending field goal attempts, Williams only allows a 31.7% shooting percentage from three, his highest rated defended field goals stat. To give a little perspective, he allows a 51.6 FG% from less than 6 feet from the hoop. Not many centers can go out and defend the arch like Williams. His length and jumping ability make it impossible for guys to get clean looks.
A guy with this length, agility, quickness, and versatility can impact a team in so many ways that are just slipped under the rug. You don’t have to play 35+ minutes a game and shoot five threes a game to be an impactful center in this league. The game is evolving that is a fact, but there is still a place for big men in the NBA.