by James B. Terry
The center position has been a black hole for the Boston Celtics ever since the trade of Kendrick Perkins.
The team used Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq immediately following the move and neither of the aging veterans could stay healthy while in Boston. They’ve had Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins, two quality backups at best and a number of other names.
Last year the team started Vitor Faverani at center on opening night and he looked promising at first but his play quickly declined before a knee injury sidelined him for the second half of the season. Of all people, Jared Sullinger got the most starts at center last year and quite frankly, he just isn’t a center.
With a healthy Faverani along with Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and unfortunately Joel Anthony, Boston also added Tyler Zeller to the roster this offseason and he should be the starting center.
Zeller is the middle of three brothers and my favorite story about him, and his talent, came from the mouth of Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. The Zeller’s grew up in Indiana, not far from Butler University, where Stevens currently coached. While Stevens recruited brothers Cody and Luke Zeller very hard, he admitted to never tryed to real in Tyler because he was just too good for the likes of Butler.
After playing college ball at North Carolina and was drafted 17th overall in 2012. At the time, I was very high on him as a prospect and was hoping he would slip too 20th and 21st where the Celtics wound up drafting Sullinger and Fab Melo (now after seeing Melo’s name pop up you really wish he did slip don’t you).
Now the Celtics have him and he is the guy on the roster who should start in the five slot.
There’s always a red flag when players already show a decline from year one to year two and at first glance it would appear that Zeller dipped off after a strong rookie season, but that really isn’t the case. Yes his averages for points, rebounds, steals, assists and blocks all went down but he saw his minutes cut dramatically between the two seasons.
And thinking he got his minutes cut because of some sort of decline isn’t the smartest thing to believe. Per 36 minutes he saw an increase in points, rebounds and blocks per game. His field goal percentage also rose from 44% in his rookie season to 54% last year and could possibly be on the upswing as he moves from Cleveland to Boston.
While his rim protection numbers are not eye popping by any means, they’re still very much better then anybody else the Celtics have on their roster and defending the paint was something they really struggled in last season. Even though he won’t be a lock down player down low, he’s still an upgrade and will be able to help a great deal.
I would like to see Sullinger, Olynyk and Brandon Bass spend most, if not all of their time at power forward in the upcoming season and giving Zeller heavy minutes in the rotation is something that could really help that. In terms of the center rotation I’d like to see Zeller take most of the minutes and the rest taken on by Faverani. Of course Favereni’s health and development as a basketball player will have a lot to do with how many minutes he takes, but I feel like it is a reasonable thing to ask for.
The goal here is to get Bass and Sullinger playing their natural position as much as possible because that is where they’ll make their biggest impact. As for Olynyk, I’m fine with him playing a few minutes at center because I don’t think he has discovered his best fit in terms of position yet, but I do feel because he struggled on defense so much last year that’s it is best to have him coming off the bench at times in the game when the plan is to attack and score.
The Celtics don’t have Kevin Love on the roster and they probably won’t and it’s upsetting to most Celtic fans because there were no fireworks this offseason. More moves still need to be made with the team over the 15 man roster limit at the moment but there is still plenty to be excited about for this upcoming season and Zeller is just one of those reasons.