With the offseason news slower than a Jamie Moyer fastball, it’s time to get creative with what to write about. Player capsules are our attempt to summarize each player’s season. Shelden Williams gets the honor of being first.
I beg of you, don’t judge Shelden Williams’ entire season based on 18 minutes of play during the Series That Must Not Be Named. Even if it looked like that series was Williams’ first experience in professional basketball, or maybe even the first time he’d ever touched a basketball period, judging his whole season on that poor, ill-timed performance would be to forget every solid contribution Williams made throughout the season. And don’t get it twisted: Williams did a lot of good in Celtics green.
He did so much good, in fact, that early in the season a lot of fans clamored for him to take Glen Davis’ spot in the rotation. Don’t remember that? Read this article. It was true. Williams was playing so well that fans wondered if Davis, fresh off averaging 15 and 5 in last season’s playoffs, deserved any minutes when he came back from the injury he got while drunkenly snuffing his friend in the face. When Davis was down, in fact, the Celtics played their best regular season basketball. And Williams was doing his thang.
Even later in the season (in the playoffs!), with Rasheed Wallace playing like a lethargic seven foot zombie, fans figured Shelden would do a better job. And the fans weren’t alone: Doc Rivers admitted, “”[Williams] enters the discussion [for playing time] every day. He’s definitely in the discussion, there’s no doubt about that.” As late as the playoffs people were wishing Williams would play a bigger role, but people still forget how solid Williams was for most of the season. That forgetfulness is easy to explain: A few kamikaze minutes wiped out all the good memories and left a lasting impression, mostly because those disastrous minutes were in the NBA Finals but also partially because those goddamn minutes were so pitifully bad that Williams looked like he could have been blackout drunk.
Still, despite the incredible depth of bad that those minutes reached, I implore you to remember the whole package, the whole season, when you remember Shelden Williams. Remember his time filling in for Davis, back when you wouldn’t have been considered crazy for saying Williams deserved more minutes. Remember later in the season, when Rivers considered throwing Williams into the playoff rotation, mostly because he had been solid all season but also because Williams always assured 100% effort. Remember the playoffs too, that ever so brief stretch of playing time when Williams was so mind-bogglingly bad he drew the disdain of Celtic fans everywhere. Remember the good, the bad, and the ugly and you’ll inevitably come to the same conclusion I did when I looked back on Williams’ season: He definitely outperformed expectations.
When the Celtics signed Williams to a minimum deal last offseason, my first thought was, “Huh?”, my second was, “Wait, he’s still alive?”, and my third was, “Well, that’s a waste of money.” It was only a minimum deal, but I couldn’t help but think that there was someone out there who would have been better than Williams, that there was someone out there who was available and could have been more helpful than an undersized draft bust with minimal offensive skill. And there probably was. Some other player available for the minimum probably would have done a better job. But that doesn’t change that fact that Williams was good. He was solid. He earned his money. He really did. Yet a lot of us will fail to remember that, because of Williams’ 18-minute bout with a devastating case of basketball jitters.
In the middle of the season, before a game against the Dallas Mavericks, I sat down for an interview with Williams. By that time he had already been sent back to the bench when Glen Davis returned from injury, but Williams still said all the right things. He was happy to finally play for a winning organization. He understood why he wasn’t getting playing time (“It’s the situation I’m in, playing behind All-Star caliber guys,” he told me. “You’ve got to understand the situation I’m in, who I’m playing behind and the team that we have, what we’re trying to accomplish.”). He stayed ready, even with no promise that he’d step foot on the court. He said everything you’d want him to say, yet I guessed from his tone that he was a bit disappointed, if not with his season than with the way his entire career has played out. Williams, the number five pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, probably never expected to one day discuss how he dealt with being almost permanently stapled to the bench.
But he shouldn’t be so disappointed. He should just be proud. Shelden Williams has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a lottery pick, but it’s not his fault he was weighed down by expectations he was unworthy of. He’ll never be confused for an All-Star, but Williams has carved himself a niche in the NBA and will have a long career. He works hard. He prepares to play everygame as if he was a starter. He keeps the right mentality, even when things aren’t going well. He’s a team player. A hell of a rebounder. A hustler. And 18 minutes, as bad as they were, could never change all that.