Early Observations on Tyler Zeller


It was great to have the Boston Celtics return to the TD Garden last night, as they took care of business against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics started off slow (down by as much as 9 points in the first), but were able to take control of the game the rest of the way for their first win of the season.

One of the more intriguing storylines coming into last night’s game was who were the starters going to be? It wasn’t until head coach Brad Stevens went on 98.5 Sports Hub show “Zo and Beetle” where the general public found out who got the call. I was intrigued that Tyler Zeller got the nod to start, since he and Jared Sullinger need to perform well to get that coveted contract extension by the team. While Sullinger looked like a world-beater last night, Zeller might have lost his chance at an extension after just one game.

Zeller was getting destroyed in the low block by rookie Jahlil Okafor and young star Nerlens Noel. The two were grabbing boards, scoring buckets, and was the main reason as to why the 76ers kept a lead through one quarter. The Celtics did have some shooting issues, but letting Okfaor just feast at the hoop was a huge issue. After around five minutes, Stevens benched Zeller and that was that. The former Tar Heel didn’t see the floor till the fourth quarter. I repeat the fourth quarter. His stat line was just a little over 10 minutes of action, six points, one rebound and three fouls. That’s not the kind of impression Zeller needs to show considering he has a contract extension deadline by Nov. 2.

Can Tyler Zeller do enough to have the Celtics give him a contract extension? David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Zeller is still on his rookie contract, and he is due for an extension if Boston wants him. If they do not sign him to a contract, he will become a restricted free agent. So if Zeller becomes a restricted free agent, I believe the price to keep him might be higher than the Celtics are willing to spend on. Some Celtics/NBA insiders equated to what Robin Lopez got from the New York Knicks as a similar deal that Zeller will be looking for.

I’m sorry but a four-year deal worth around $12 million annually is ridiculous for Zeller. I’m sure that’s what his agent will be going for, but I wouldn’t go any higher than 4-5 million (that’s a good 2/3 less than Lopez’s deal). Would Zeller find that deal attractive, if it was longer contract? That’s the million dollar question, but I have a feeling that he would rather test the market if those were the figures offered to him.

What does Zeller offer to the team that would make him a more desirable asset for Boston? He is very athletic for his position and is a legit 7-footer. However, there is a huge log-jam with forwards on the current roster. After the night Sullinger just had, I think it might be better to have the starting lineup with Sullinger and Lee. Lee’s passing ability will keep other defenses guessing if he is passing or scoring, and Sullinger (weight and all) knows how to use his body to be the best rebounder on the team. Not to mention that Jae Crowder could play the 4 (small ball), and Amir Johnson is a more efficient player than the other forwards. Don’t forget that Kelly Olynyk will become available after his suspension. So to me, that leaves Zeller on an island with how the roster is constructed.

Tyler Zeller can offer the Celtics, as well as any team, a lot to warrant a contract extension. Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Before he arrived in Boston, I was never really a huge fan of Zeller. I thought he was drafted too high and wouldn’t amount to anything in the league (I was a bigger fan on his brother Cody Zeller). Then he came to Boston and shot a very high shooting percentage last season. Not to mention that he could rebound well and run the fast break, which took me by surprised. I was impressed, especially when Zeller was close to the hoop on offense.

I looked at him as a legitimate role player who found a place in Boston. As stated earlier, it looks like he might not be needed anymore on this team with the current roster construction. That stinks for Zeller, because he seems like a player a team could use. There should be a market for him (trade wise), if a team either loses a forward due to injury or could use some depth. So it isn’t all bad for the forward.

I might be jumping the gun with these earlier observations, but Zeller was benched for most of the game after being named the starter. That’s a big deal no matter what level of basketball someone is playing in. If Stevens goes back to Zeller on Friday, then maybe he saved his role on this team. However, with all the forwards on this roster, that could become a huge issue for Zeller to market himself to the Celtics. He needs to improve his play to show he’s worth that extension, or he won’t be staying in Boston for the future. Luckily there’s still time to impress the front office. If Zeller can shake off this poor start and perform like Sullinger did last night, he may earn himself a new contract.

*All contract numbers courtesy of spotrac.com

C.J Maffris is a writer for Hardwoodhoudini.com. He enjoys overreacting to one game, even if this is a mild take instead of a hot take. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @SeaJayMaffris

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