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Celtics Rotation Battles: Al Horford vs. Robert Williams

May 3, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) enters the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in the third quarter during game two of the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics have one of the best rosters in the league and are poised to contend for a title again. With the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Celtics core was shaken up a little this off-season and there are some questions about exactly how Porzingis will fit in Boston. However, there are still four clear starters: Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kristaps Porzingis.

This leaves the starting center position next to Porzingis open between Al Horford and Robert Williams. The two players have different skill sets but are both starting-caliber big men. However, who will be the starting five is an important question for the Celtics as the season approaches. 

Celtics Rotation Battles: Al Horford vs. Robert Williams

The Case for Al Horford 

Al Horford is a rock-solid veteran big man. Last year, in his 16th season, Horford appeared in 63 games and started in all of them. Horford has a great basketball IQ and feel for the game that allows him to make a strong impact on both ends of the floor. Horford shot 44% from three on 5 attempts per game which was good for the 2nd best three-point percentage in the league. Horford’s floor spacing and shooting abilities are immensely valuable to Boston. Additionally, Horford is a willing playmaker who constantly makes the extra pass within the offense; he can also be used as a high-post passer. Horford isn’t an elite defender by any means. However, his IQ and instincts make him a net positive on that end of the floor.

Pros and Cons of Horford

The major advantage to starting Horford is floor spacing. By starting Horford, the Celtics would have the ability to run a starting lineup with five high-level 3-point shooters. Head coach Joe Mazzulla loves to run 5-out lineups and heavily values the three-ball, making Horford a perfect fit in this system. Horford’s playmaking abilities also help the offensive upside. This lineup has the potential to make Boston the top offense and 3-point shooting team in the league. 

The main downside to starting Horford is his age. At 37, there’s a chance Horford’s game could begin to decline. Similarly, many people view the Porzingis trade as insurance for Horford’s age and possible decline. The Celtics could have more upside with the fast-paced and more athletic starting five. However, despite these concerns, Horford feels like the natural choice for the starting center spot. Horford is a perfect fit with Mazzulla’s style and has a ton of experience with this Boston team. Additionally, even though Horford is aging, he is still playing at a high level and has been remarkably durable throughout his career. But how does Horford’s game and value compare to Robert Williams? 

The Case for Robert Williams 

Robert Williams is a talented young center. Williams had an injury-riddled season last year in which he appeared in 35 games and started in 20 of those games. However, when Williams played, he was impactful on both ends of the floor. Williams is an elite and extremely versatile defender. Rob is a great shot blocker and rim protector. Additionally, Williams is switchable and can guard multiple positions if needed. If Williams isn’t stationed in the paint, he has the ability to roam around the perimeter and wreak havoc—similar to what Jaren Jackson Jr. does for the Grizzlies. Furthermore, Williams is a great rebounder. Offensively, Williams is a rim runner and lob threat while being an efficient interior scorer on low usage. 

Pros and Cons of Williams

The main advantage to starting Robert Williams is defense. Williams fits like a glove next to Kristaps Porzingis on defense. Williams and Porzingis would be one of the most formidable interior defenses league-wide. In this scenario, one of the big men would be used as the rim protector while the other would roam outside of the paint in a “free safety” type of role. Both Porzingis and Williams have the skill set to succeed in either role. This would allow the Celtics to have incredible defensive versatility. Williams doesn’t have the same floor spacing ability as Horford. However, Williams provides the Celtics with more of an interior presence, and the Celtics would still maintain an elite offense. The Celtics could run a 4-out, 1-in style of offense, with Williams as a rim runner and lob threat. 

The major concern with Robert Williams is injuries. When he’s healthy, there’s no denying Rob’s talent and impact. In his last healthy year in 2021-22, Williams was an All-Defensive Second Team selection and one of the most impact defenders in the league. If he stays healthy and returns to his 2022 form, it will be hard for Boston not to start Williams. However, this remains a massive question. 

The Last Word 

Horford’s experience with the team along with how well his shooting fits with Boston’s identity likely makes him the day one starter. Ultimately, Horford is a more proven starter as of now. However, if Williams is healthy and/or Horford shows signs of decline, he will certainly take over the starting role. Starting Williams gives the Celtics better defense, more balance, and a higher upside. As a result, it’s very likely he’ll be the consistent starter towards the end of the season. Horford still has the slight edge right now, but if Williams proves himself, he will take over the starting duties. 


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