Breaking News: Tyler Zeller is allergic to rebounds
Tyler Zeller in his natural habitat: missing a rebound.
One would think that being seven feet tall and playing roughly twenty minutes a game would produce at least a few rebounds by pure chance -- a carom that falls into the big man’s hands, or an offensive rebound on an airball that falls into his lap.
To prove that point wrong, I give you one Tyler Zeller.
Zeller, in the Celtics match up against Toronto on Friday, managed to defy all logic and play nearly twenty minutes without registering a rebound. Yes, in truly stunning fashion, a man whose job is to stand next to and under the basket on both ends managed to never get his hands on a ball that wasn't passed to him.
And perhaps even more amazingly, Zeller has only one rebound through the first two games of the season, a truly worrisome statistic that certainly doesn't scream “starting NBA center”.
For reference, here is a list of players who have out-rebounded Zeller through two games (with their height in parentheses):
Damian Lillard (6”3’)
Patrick Beverly (6”1’)
Joe Johnson (6”7’)
And of course our very own mighty mite, Isaiah Thomas (5”9’) has out-rebounded the big man by a 3 to 1 margin.
It’s all well and good to poke fun at Zeller’s rebounding woes, and to be honest, this is probably much more a case of small sample size than it is an indication that Zeller has suddenly become incapable of hitting the boards. What is notable, however, is that Zeller’s tremendously poor work on the glass is symptomatic of the larger issue at hand: Zeller simply doesnt rebound like an NBA center.
We can take his rebounds per game last year with a grain of salt, because although he started he never played huge minutes because he shared time with Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Brandon Bass. But his per 36 minutes rebounding numbers weren't great either; according to basketball-reference.com, Zeller averaged only 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes (For comparison, the notably rebound-phobic Enes Kanter averaged 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes).
Unless Zeller can improve those numbers, he simply cant stake a claim to being a starting 5 man in the NBA, which is a huge problem for a Celtics team that relies on him as its only legitimate size.
The former Tar Heel’s value has always been as an offensive threat -- a rim running, hard-rolling big with a deft touch can really help propel an offense, especially one with a young ball handler like Marcus Smart.
But how well he can do the dirty work, like hitting the glass, nailing his rotations, and putting up more of a fight on the block is where he will make his case as anything more than an above-average big off the bench. And it is always hard to call out a professional athlete for effort, but Zeller was abused by Jahlil Okafor last wednesday because, quite frankly, he just didn't fight him hard enough for position.
Put simply, such trends cannot continue if Zeller wants to keep his job, or if he wants to be part of the Celtics long-term future.
Make no mistake, Zeller’s starting spot is more than likely safe -- for the moment. Stevens has preached cohesiveness over individual talent all year, and Zeller fits well with David Lee’s high-low passing and as a safety valve for Smart. But while his leash may not be taut, it is most certainly getting tight, and it might not be long until he feels it pulling him back to the bench.
Photo courtesy of Mark Duncan of the Associated Press via Gazettenet.com
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