With so many Celtics fans disappointing over the lack of “fireworks” that was initially promised, it seems that the Celtics are in a position where they are grasping straws in hopes of bouncing back into the playoffs next season. One area that Danny Ainge addressed was the need for a legit center this summer. The Celtics were part of a 3-team deal with the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers that brought over Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and a future first round pick from the Cavaliers.
Tyler Zeller is the biggest prize in that trade because he is a true center the Celtics have lacked last season. With the Celtics still holding a lot of assets and have expiring contracts heading into next season, Zeller is a 24-year old 7-footer with a lot of upside. Zeller was limited to 15 minutes per game on a bad Cavaliers team, but will have a greater chance to help the Celtics bounce back into playoff contention.
Tyler Zeller was selected 17th overall (4 spots ahead of Jared Sullinger) in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks, then traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers later on. Zeller was quickly making an impact for the Cavaliers as he scored 15 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in his 4th career NBA game. He put up some good numbers during his rookie season as he averaged 7.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 26.4 minutes per game. Unfortunately, his numbers started to decline because of the disfunction of the Cleveland Cavaliers organization. Zeller isn’t at fault for the revolving door of centers that have come in and out of Cleveland, but it hindered his chances at developing into a great center. The reason being is that Cleveland made bad moves last summer drafting Anthony Bennett #1 overall, signed Andrew Bynum and traded for Spencer Hawes. All players are centers and Zeller remained rotting on the bench instead of developing the way the Celtic develop players.
As I’ve stated before, Tyler Zeller is a 7-footer with a lot of upside, which labels him as an almost automatic starting center for the Celtics. Boston’s other 7-footers Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani have completely different skill sets than Tyler Zeller. Boston’s other frontcourt players Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Joel Anthony are slightly undersized to be transitioned to center. With all of these factors into play, the minutes available to Tyler Zeller are his for the taking. Brad Stevens also likes what Zeller brings to the Celtics and this will be something the head coach will be working with in his 2nd season on the bench.
“First and foremost, I think he’s a great transition rim-runner. I think he can really get out and fly up and down the court, and I think that showed itself true a lot at North Carolina. And then I think he is a guy that can, with his skill, score on the block but also stretch the defense.” Brad Stevens said about Tyler Zeller.
Zeller is the type of player who can run with the likes of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart in transition. He was notorious for his transition reads and his ability for fill the lanes correctly at North Carolina. It’s a great thing that he is explosive in transition, but it has lead to a bad habit that can be fixed. He tends to break away from his defensive position too quickly and has given up enough offensive rebounds to make the entire team cringe. Fortunately for Zeller, the Celtics have hard-nosed rebounders in Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass alongside him in the frontcourt. Rajon Rondo will also sneak in there to snag some rebounds on occasion as well. With other players capable of grabbing rebounds, this will give Zeller the perfect opportunity to fly up the floor for easy transition points.
Zeller may not be exactly the shot blocking center that we were looking for, but that doesn’t mean that he is a poor defender. Zeller is a big and wide 7-footer and not one of those scrawny, lanky ones. He spent all four of his college years at North Carolina under head coach Roy Williams, who puts a lot of emphasis on defense. Zeller spent all of his time at North Carolina building up his strength and guile to be a substantial defender. Zeller is wide enough to take charges and will do that at the right time.
Offensively, Zeller’s size allows him to create a lot of space, on pick-and-rolls and when he posts up for hook shots. Zeller does have range on his jump shot, which will keep him on the floor for more minutes in Boston than he did in Cleveland. His scoring ability will play into the positional style of offense that Brad Stevens implements.
There are centers that started playoff games that are reasonably good centers like Tiago Splitter, Kendrick Perkins, Robin Lopez, Samuel Dalembert and Pero Antic. Tyler Zeller is fully capable of being a good center like these ones listed, but I think with the amount of opportunities he will be granted here in Boston, I think he could be as great at Andrew Bogut or Jonas Valanciunas. He may not be the center that Omer Asik is, but he is the type of center that I think the Celtics could use as a building block going forward.