Ante Zizic: The Playoff Hero That Never Was For The Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics selected Ante Zizic with the 23rd pick in the last year’s draft. Could he have brought toughness and rebounding to their first round series with the Chicago Bulls?

The Boston Celtics had an incredible regular season, blowing away expectations. Maybe they overachieved, but a 53-win season ending in a first seed in the Eastern Conference is nothing to take lightly. Tthrough the first two games of the Celtics’s playoff series with the Chicago Bulls, however, they have appeared outmatched and outsized.

When the playoffs come around, the game slows down and becomes more physical and the Celtics have not been prepared for such physical basketball. The Celtics have been out-rebounded in both Game 1 and Game 2. Robin Lopez has looked incredible, averaging 16 points and nine rebounds, including six offensive rebounds per game.

The lack of frontcourt depth has been a problem for the Celtics throughout this whole season, and the Bulls have been able to expose that. Al Horford has continued to struggle on the glass, and Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk have not been much better. Tyler Zeller and Jordan Mickey have struggled to find minutes. The Celtics need help on the boards on this season, and the worst part is, that help is already part of the organization.

With three first round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Celtics elected to stash their last two picks. The 23rd overall pick was used on Croatian center Ante Zizic. Zizic said that he was ready for the NBA but much to his protest, the Celtics told him to spend the upcoming season in Europe. Boy I bet they regret that decision now.

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Ante Zizic walks off stage after being selected as the number twenty-three overall pick to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

What Could Have Been

Zizic stands at 6’11, 254 pounds at only 20 years old. When reading about Zizic, the recurring themes are fearlessness, aggressiveness and hustle. That is exactly what the Celtics are missing in their first round series against the Bulls.

As is common in European basketball, Zizic has played for two clubs this season. He has suited up for KK Cibona, a Croatian basketball club that plays in the Liga ABA, and Darüşşafaka S.K., a Turkish club that competes in the Turkish Basketball League. In Liga ABA with KK Cibona, where Zizic has received the most minutes, he has averaged over nine rebounds and one block in 30 minutes per contest.

Yes, I realize European basketball is a completely different game against a different level of competition. However, rebounding is one of the most transferrable aspects of basketball. It’s a skill acquired through position, energy and heart. Zizic seems to possess a lot of heart.

The ultimate question is whether this rebounding prowess would have transferred to the NBA this season. At only 20 years old, Zizic is still young. However, you can’t teach size and Zizic matches up better with Lopez (7’0″, 265 lbs) than any other player currently on the Celtics’ roster.

It would be foolish to think a 20-year-old late first round pick would come in and completely change the scope of Boston’s playoff series. No, Zizic couldn’t singlehandedly carry the Celtics to victory.

However, one has to wonder whether he could have contained Lopez on the offensive glass. One has to wonder whether he could come in and spark a run for the Celtics by swatting a Jimmy Butler shot attempt, or diving on the floor for a loose ball and energizing the Celtics’ second unit.

Thinking long-term, this season in Europe will be good for Zizic’s development. His minutes in Boston this season would likely have been sporadic. In the long run, Danny Ainge did the right thing keeping Zizic overseas. However if the Celtics do fall to the Bulls in the first round, Boston fans will wonder if Zizic could have helped change the outcome.

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