Brad Stevens should consider changing things up by playing Tyler Zeller over Amir Johnson
Two years ago, the Boston Celtics were desperate to make a big splash in free agency. Danny Ainge had stocked the cupboard with pick after pick but he needed some talent to help bring the young studs along. Unfortunately, the big splash never came and instead a drip from the faucet appeared in the form of Amir Johnson. It made sense, the Raptors were one of the Celtics biggest rivals and by taking him away at the very least they made their path to the finals easier. Since then, however, the Raptors have gone to another level and the Celtics did not get their big splash out of him.
Now don’t get me wrong, Johnson is a good player and an exceptional teammate. He sets the tone and is a tireless worker. He charges up and down the floor with determination and he rotates well on defence, but despite this, his game does not suit the fast paced, ball flying around the gym offence of Brad Stevens and the Celtics.
On the offensive end Johnson is in one word, a liability. He has terrible hands and when the ball is thrown his way it looks like he’s trying to catch a hot potato without oven mitts. This makes him unable to run the pick and roll game effectively. If his defender leaves him to take the driver and the ball is tossed to a rolling Johnson he more often than not fumbles it or throws up a shot with the touch of drunk surgeon with vertigo. When he is not in the pick and roll he is even more of a spanner in the works.
His inability to shoot the ball means his defenders can leak off of him and clog the lane making it extremely hard for players like Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley to drive the basket. Now this might be manageable, if he was a shutdown defender like Robertson from the Thunder. Despite his considerable effort, Johnson is undersized and often gets shot over. You can almost see the larger centres in the league smirk and pat the shorter Johnson on the head as they toss the ball over him. His lack of size also makes it difficult for him to control the defensive boards and despite his best efforts to box out he has consistently this year given up costly offensive rebounds.
The solution, Tyler Zeller. Tyler has excellent hands and is a much better fit for the fast paced, spread the floor, Celtic offense. He is extremely good in the pick and roll and is very capable of rolling to the basket, gathering in a tough pass and putting up a shot with a deft touch. Not only is he good in the pick in roll but he is a very reliable shooter. Even though he is not a three point weapon like Kelly Olynyk or Al Horford, he is extremely capable from eighteen feet and has a smooth shot.
He has made big shots for the Celtics off the bench despite the fact he appears in very inconsistent minutes. He is also an accomplished free throw shooter, shooting over 80% for the Celtics the last two years and this allows him to be used at the end of games without hesitation. Admittedly, on the defensive end he is less effective than Johnson, but his extra size allows him to at least make it difficult for opposing centres. He does need to become stronger and Danny Ainge should definitely start making him eat double lunches so he can bulk up.
So in short or maybe in tall, the Celtics must be proactive and make a move with their big men. They need to feed Zeller more minutes and more protein and either trade Johnson or let him inspire from the end of the bench. Stevens needs to shed his sweet, guidance officer persona and make the tough decision to demote the hard working Johnson so the Celtics can get the ball flowing and hopefully the champagne.