Monday, August 4, 2014
SQ14 #10 Zeller Optimism!
Tyler was a well regarded recruit going into college. He was the only Zeller brother (also Cody and Luke) Brad Stevens didn’t recruit, only because he didn’t think he had a chance of getting him. Indeed he committed to North Carolina (yeah, Brad probably didn’t have much of a shot luring him away from UNC) and drew high praise from Roy Williams for his play during his four year NCAA career. He missed half the season his freshman year with a broken arm but over his four years he improved in almost every statistical category each season. He finished in 2012 a second team All-American, and was the 2012 Academic All-American of the year.
His NBA career got off to a promising start in Cleveland where he started in 55 games (playing in 77) when Anderson Varejao missed most of the season. Then came the fiasco of a season that was Cleveland in 2013-14. Zeller underwent an emergency appendectomy during the preseason, but the Cavaliers were already on a downward spiral. Varejao was back, but leading up to the season they had fired head coach Byron Scott and replaced him with Mike Brown, drafted Anthony Bennet with the first overall pick (ouch), and signed the high priced but one-legged and zero-minded free agent Andrew Bynum. For Tyler, recuperation from the surgery had robbed him of the strength, conditioning, and bulk he had added in the off-season, and now there was a very expensive Bynum to soak up all the minutes he could tolerate in relief of Varejao. The Bynum experiment went south on about 12 different levels and he was traded-to-be-waived in a salary move by Chicago in January. In February Cleveland visited the Philly fire-sale-to-tank and picked up the serviceable veteran Spencer Hawes to backup the center position for a failed playoff chase. The sophomore season from he11! Zeller played irregularly, infrequently, and erratically; no second-year leap, nor much progress; but in spite of it all, he finished the season strong and improving.
Zeller’s getting dumped in Cleveland’s cut-salary-to-woo-LeBron rush, will, I think, be perhaps the most fortuitous stroke in Tyler’s career. It was also a much-needed boost to what had been a drab off-season for Boston. While he is no Mister Fantastic with stretchy arms, Tyler is a legit seven feet, runs eagerly and well, and plays good on-ball defense. He also fits well with my emerging view of the Stevens’ Celtics--smart, hustling, opportunistic, and heady with good court sense and BB IQ.
As for improvement, his arms won’t grow longer and he’s not going to be a huge leaper, but adding bulk and strength will make him a much more imposing foil for opposing centers, and experience will enable him to apply his excellent passing skills. He won’t be a big shot-blocker but a solid defensive presence in the paint would be a huge improvement for the Celtics. His good mid-range game will complement his pick-setting and he shows a good touch with either hand around the basket although that has not translated into efficiency at the basket thus far--hopefully another thing that will improve with experience, bulk, and strength.
It is my opinion that Zeller is the plum in the TPE deal, even better than the future 1st round pick from Cleveland. While he got much less playing time his second year, his per-36 numbers all improved and his shooting percentage took a huge jump. I am bullish on Tyler’s prospects in the coming season.
Only 55 more days until training camp.
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