Tyler Zeller remains a pleasant surprise for the Celts
Coming into the season, C's fans had little to look forward to. They were banking on questions that had slim chances to be answered. Would Rajon Rondo return to elite status? Could Jeff Green consistently provide offense and possibly make the All-Star team? Did Marcus Smart have a chance to be Rookie of the Year?
But not many people were asking, can Tyler Zeller be a productive center? Efforts like Monday night's, from the 25-year old, could provide an easier answer to that question.
The production against Philly came as no surprise for the C's big man, who had been steady all season. Zeller has played in all 66 games this year and is averaging 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 55% from the field.
In his third year, Zeller has been a gigantic bright spot for the green. The offensive production from Avery Bradley, the steady play by Brandon Bass, and the defense from Smart have all been great to witness.
But watching Zeller cement himself as a legitimate NBA center could be Brad Stevens' finest work, on an individual aspect, in the young coach's career.
Early in the season, Tyler Zeller almost never took midrange jump shots. While that was partly due to Rajon Rondo, whose vision rewards rolls to the hoop, Zeller would still hear the coaches holler at him from time to time. Over the past couple of games, he has silenced the coaches in that regard. Two days after hanging 18 points on Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers, Zeller set a career high with 26 points against Philadelphia. After going 8 for 11 on midrange shots in those two games, he has now drilled more than half of his shots from that distance for the season, according to NBA.com (43 for 85, 50.6 percent)
The key to Stevens' offense is the ability to have shooters on the floor at all positions. If Zeller continues to improve his game beyond the paint, it will not only help the squad, but it will benefit his wallet.
Zeller, is due $2.6 million next season, and will be a free agent in the summer of 2016. He should see an increase in his paycheck if he continues to be a staple on an improving Celtics club.
According to King, Zeller is enjoying his time in Boston:
I knew it was a great opportunity. I didn't realize how great of an opportunity it was. I didn't realize that I'd be this comfortable or fit in this well or enjoy playing with my teammates like this as much as I do. It's a great atmosphere to be around. It's fun to play. We all look out for each other, we all push each other to play hard and be in the right places. It's a fun way to play.
Is Zeller the long-term answer to the Celts search for a rim protector? Probably not, but the 7-footer has proven to be a valuable member to a team chasing a playoff birth.