With the departure of Jared Sullinger, the Boston Celtics have thinned out their front-court. With Kelly Olynyk recently sidelined due to injury, the main big man off the bench is Tyler Zeller. While he does not provide as much versatility as Olynyk in the shooting department, he is a reliable big man who can rebound and run the floor. The Celtics should look to extend Zeller’s minutes as he has proven his worth.
After playing all 82 games during the 2014-2015 season, while starting most games, Zeller’s role seemingly decreased last season as he only saw 60 games of action while playing just over 10 minutes a game. Along with this decrease in minutes, Zeller’s productivity also dropped last year. This was a puzzling decision by Brad Stevens and the Celtics as he was playing at a very efficient level.
Zeller excels when he is given the opportunity. During the 2014-2015 season, as a starter, Zeller was a key piece to a Celtics unit that somehow made the playoffs even though it was viewed to be a rebuilding year. He ranked fifth in the league in field goal percentage ahead of the likes of Al Horford, Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis. Despite only playing 21.1 minutes per game, Zeller averaged just over 10 points and five rebounds per game. The Celtics need this type of production off the bench, Zeller should get between 18-22 minutes per game even after their front court is at full strength.
Another part of Zeller’s game that is unappreciated is his free throw shooting ability. Quality free throw shooting amongst big men in the NBA is a rarity as so many centers struggle from the charity stripe. During the 2014-2015 regular season, Zeller shot an extremely efficient 82.3% from the free throw line. Amongst centers and power forwards that year, he ranked 6th in free throw shooting percentage. Unlike Amir Johnson who struggles at the line, Zeller’s consistency from the free throw line makes him extremely valuable. Zeller’s ability to shoot free throws allows the Celtics to play another big man down the stretch without the fear of the opposing team intentionally fouling him.
Zeller is an old school center who thrives on the midrange game in addition to running the floor in transition. He has incredible finishing ability around the rim and excels in the pick-and-role game. With Zeller serving as the Celtics only suitable backup center, he has put up solid numbers this year through his first four games, averaging eight points and just under five rebounds a game while playing slightly over 18 minutes per game. He is shooting a very efficient 53.6 percent from the floor and also averaging 1.3 blocks per game.The Celtics should give Zeller extended playing time as he is a very productive player off the bench.
Zeller is by no means a dynamic athlete. He is not a big man who can shoot the three. He does not posses the same type of defensive instinct and rim protecting ability as Johnson. That being said, Zeller provides the Celtics with consistency off the bench. It is important that the Celtics not overlook his ability by limiting his role with the team when Olynyk returns.