Believe it or not, when the Celtics take the court for their first regular season game on Oct. 29, a real-life, actual 7-foot center will take the court with them.
Last season, Boston rotated a group of undersized power forwards into the center spot in Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass, and Kris Humphries. They did have one 7-footer, rookie Vitor Faverani, who came on strong to start the year, but foul trouble and an eventual season-ending knee injury derailed his season.
Faverani is now dealing with swelling in his surgically repaired knee – certainly not what the C’s want to hear in camp - but Boston has bigger plans down low this season with newly acquired center Tyler Zeller.
Zeller was sent to Boston from Cleveland for essentially nothing, a deal the Cavs made to free up cap space in order to sign LeBron James (and eventually, Kevin Love).
The big question on Boston’s end: How can Zeller help the Celtics?
Well, his size alone fills a big void the C’s had going into the offseason, but Zeller is more than just a body. The man can move.
"Tyler is a rim runner,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “Tyler is one of the best bigs I've seen running for a long time.”
Stevens has preached pushing the pace early on in camp, and Zeller fits that style of play well.
"Yeah I think that's been a strong part of my game for a long time and that's something I hope to continue here,” Zeller said. “I hope we do push the pace because I do like to get up and down. I think it will work well for us this year."
Zeller provides a breath of fresh air for another reason, too: he’s a center who, ya know, plays under the basket. Though Zeller does have a midrange game, he focused much more on scoring inside rather than outside during his second season. As a rookie, 33 percent of Zeller’s shots came at the rim. That percentage jumped to 51 percent as a sophomore, though his overall shot attempts took a big hit.
Boston finished 28th in points in the paint (37.8), and 24th in points allowed in the paint (44.8). With Zeller playing more of an inside game on both ends of the court, he’ll compliment the other bigs who like to stretch things out.
“At pickup I've been guarding Kelly [Olynyk] and Sully (Sullinger) and they both want to shoot threes. I just want somebody down here [in the paint]. I don't want to go around chasing them,” Zeller quipped. “I think it’ll be great playing with them. I like playing down there and I like that role, so I think it will work well for everybody.”
With Zeller (and Faverani at some point) in the middle, Boston’s power forwards can now be power forwards again.
“Last year our big 7-footer went down early in the season,” Bass said. “So it just feels good to have multiple 7-footers to protect the paint."