Tyler Zeller has Impressed When Given Playing Time

Apr 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) laughs with Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson (31) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) laughs with Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson (31) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

Tyler Zeller has fallen out of the rotation this season, but he still shines when given the chance

A year removed from being the everyday starter for the Boston Celtics, Tyler Zeller continues to show his potential when given the playing time. Currently in his fourth NBA season, Zeller has reached the 70 games played mark every season except this year. He even played in all 82 games for Boston last season, starting a career-high of 59 games. After putting up impressive numbers in his first season with the Celtics last season, Zeller has taken a back seat to Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger.

The former North Carolina standout has completely fallen out of the rotation this season and it has taken a toll on his usually respectable stat line. Appearing in a mere 58 games this season for the Celtics, Zeller has averaged only 6.2 points, three rebounds, and a -0.9 plus/minus rating in 12 minutes. With that being said, he has seen less than 10 minutes in 26 appearances this season and only has six games of 20 or more minutes.

Zeller has gone from the team’s starting center to a player who only comes in at the end of a blowout, or when someone on the team needs rest or is injured. The soon-to-be free agent will most likely be trying to find a new home next season where he receives more minutes. And while Brad Stevens has moved on, Zeller has still been very productive when given the opportunity.

Zeller is coming off a game against the Atlanta Hawks in which he sported a -10 plus/minus rating in only five minutes. He did score three points in the short amount of time, but only managed to shoot 1-3 from the free-throw line. Still, five minutes is a very little amount of time to be able to make an impact on a game.

However, he was able to prove his worth on Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks as Isaiah Thomas was out-shined by Tyler Zeller in the win. The big man scored a team-high 26 points off the bench, on 9-15 shooting from the field and going 8-9 from the line. The seven-footer only managed to grab three rebounds, a little disappointing considering he saw 25 minutes of action, however, he recorded four blocks on defense.

Tyler Zeller has never been considered a great defender throughout his career, although, you can’t teach size. He isn’t the most talented big man but he doesn’t shoot threes so he gives Boston a big man down low. Zeller is also the only other true seven-footer on the team besides Kelly Olynyk.

Zeller has been fighting minutes all season. He has only recorded six 20-minute games this season, all being in January or later. However, in late February and early March, Zeller finally saw consistent minutes with Olynyk and Jae Crowder facing injuries.

While Zeller’s play was somewhat inconsistent over his month of action, he still provided a big body and was sometimes the catalyst off the bench that Boston needed at the time. He was a consistent shooter, shooting 51.2 percent from the field in February, and was always able to grab a couple of boards a night. Arguably, the cause of his inconsistent play could be traced back to the inconsistent playing time.

While Zeller may not be as effective as Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Jared Sullinger, or Amir Johnson, there’s no doubt that it’s a little odd he hasn’t seen more time when the team is on short rest.

In the smallish sample size we have this season, Zeller has gotten significantly better as his minutes and role increased. In the 26 games he played 0-9 minutes, he averaged a mediocre 2.9 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. His offensive rating is atrocious (91), his plus/minus rating is dreadful (-5.2), and his true shooting percentage doesn’t even reach 50 percent (49.8 percent).

More from Hardwood Houdini

However, when playing 10-19 minutes, his numbers significantly increase. Despite his averages of 7.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game increasing – as they should – Zeller owns an offensive rating of 104 and his true shooting percentage increases to above 50 percent (52.2 percent).

His best play comes when he sees 20 or more minutes in a game. Forget that his points and rebounds per game both increase; his true shooting percentage (64.3) is as good as it gets. Also, Zeller owns a ridiculously high 124 offensive rating and an extremely low 100 defensive rating, to go along with his impressive +20.3 plus/minus rating.

Brad Stevens isn’t going to change his rotation up during the playoffs. If anything, bench players will see less time in favor of starters. However, there is no denying the impact that Zeller has brought to the game this season when Stevens has called his number.

Next: Breaking Down the Playoff and Lottery Race

He isn’t a starter on a championship-level team – as he proved last season – but he’ll have no problem latching on to a team this off-season as a bench player.