No matter what Robert Williams III does as a player, the narrative surrounding his play will always center around his availability rather than his ability.
Because when it comes to playing the game, Williams has left little doubt that he’s a really good player; that is when he’s good enough health-wise to play.
What we saw in Boston’s 117-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, was a game in which the fourth-year big man reminded us of the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of his impact on games.
He was arguably the best big man on the floor, putting together a mixtape-worthy performance with a couple of special dunks, one of which was over perennial All-Star Anthony Davis.
Williams’ stat line for the night - 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting - was pretty good.
But the problem was Williams’ strong play didn’t go past the second quarter, a player who went from dominant to dormant with just two points coming in the second half
And that is why Williams remains a challenge to figure out exactly what’s a reasonable expectation from him at this point in his career.
With a lot of players, success often comes down to timing.
The window for Williams to emerge as a top-tier center in the East, can’t be any better than it is now.
Philly’s Joel Embiid remains the best big in the East, easily.
But after Embiid, there’s Miami’s Bam Adebayo who will be out for at least a month following thumb surgery.
Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis is an All-Star, but he’s on a team that has grossly underachieved this season to the point where league executives anticipate they will be among the most active teams when it comes to trading away players that could potentially mean Sabonis will be on the move.
Chicago’s Nikola Vucevic is a good scorer and rebounder, but isn’t nearly as good an athlete as Williams is and isn’t anywhere close to being able to impact games defensively on the level that Williams has shown he’s capable of doing this season.
And yet, none of that matters because Williams, up to this point, has been a player that the Celtics simply can’t rely on to stay healthy enough to impact games consistently.
Since being drafted by Boston in the first round of the 2018 draft, Williams has played in 131 of a possible 252 games, or 52 percent.
While we have seen that percentage of games played increase (he has played in 18 of the team's 25 games this season), there still remains enough uncertainty about his availability to where the Celtics have to be cautiously optimistic about their expectations when it comes to Williams.
I asked Celtics head coach Ime Udoka about Williams and what he would like to see, beyond more consistency obviously, from Williams going forward.
“First thing would be availability,” Udoka said. “Just being available is the main thing.”
Udoka envisions Williams becoming better at attacking the glass relentlessly, and continuing to evolve into a reliable anchor defensively.
Williams' game is well-suited for the NBA of today.
While he stands 6-foot-8, Williams has a freakish 7-6 wingspan which allows him to play bigger - a lot bigger - than he really is.
And his lateral quickness with all that length allows him to be an effective defender when he has to switch out on smaller, presumably quicker players.
After signing him to a four-year, $54 million contract during the offseason, the Celtics have every reason to feel good about the 24-year-old’s future in Green.
And Williams has made no secret about embracing the role he plays with the Celtics, a role that involves him playing off of others rather than being a go-to guy.
It is a role that he has shown tremendous growth in, and potential to be even more impactful as he gains experience and continues to evolve into one of the team’s leaders.
But Williams’ talent means little if he’s on the bench nursing injuries and illnesses which unfortunately for him and the Celtics, has been an all-too-common occurrence.
Because as important as Williams is when he plays, those three words - when he plays - are what his success with the Celtics ultimately comes down to.