Nov 1, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller (40) talks to head coach Mike Brown during the second half against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Curtis Wilson-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics: What Does Tyler Zeller Bring To The Table?

Until LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony sign with a team, free agency won’t truly start. Some teams however, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, are making smaller moves in an attempt to lure The King back to Cleveland.

Wednesday, it was a three-way trade to clear some salary room to give LeBron the max deal he’s looking for, and the Boston Celtics were a part of it.

The deal, first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein, goes something like this:

When it’s all said and done, all Boston gives up is a future second-round draft pick and uses their trade exception from the Paul Pierce trade, and receives Zeller, Thornton, and a first-rounder from Cleveland. Essentially, Cleveland needed a team upon which to dump Marcus Thornton’s contract ($8.6 million this season, and it expires next summer) and was willing to throw in Zeller and a future first.

In Thornton, Boston adds another guard to their already small-ball heavy roster. He’s a bit of a chucker (shot .394 from the field while taking 8.9 shots per game in 2013-14) but he’s a 27-year-old shooting guard who could carve out a role with the rebuilding Celtics.

The future first-round raft pick adds to Boston’s already impressive stash, giving them a huge stockpile of assets to trade, or simply draft picks to rebuild.

The third thing acquired in the deal, however, may be the most interesting. Tyler Zeller, a two-year NBA veteran and former UNC Tar Heel, was sent over from Cleveland to Boston.

Tyler is one of three siblings playing professional basketball. His younger brother Cody plays with the Charlotte Hornets, while his older brother Luke plays for the Austin Toros of the NBA D-League.

Tyler, 24, is a 7’1″ center who had an impressive rookie season with Cleveland in 2012-13, averaging  7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds. In his second season, he saw substantially fewer minutes than he did as a rookie (15.0 to 26.4) but still played admirably–5.7 points on a .538 shooting percentage, Zeller was an efficient paint scorer.

With Anderson Varejao playing center for Cleveland, it’s unlikely that Zeller would see any starting minutes. In Boston, however, the competition is less fierce, and Zeller can possibly be playing serious minutes if he plays his cards right.

In 2013-14, Boston went with a rotation of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Vitor Faverani at center. Sullinger, being 6’9″, may be best fit to stay at the power forward spot long term, so just for the sake of the argument, we can leave him out.

That leaves Olynyk and Faverani standing in Zeller’s way. Olynyk and Zeller are quite different players, despite both being at least 7’0″.

Olynyk can step out and shoot the ball, as opposed to being a more limited scorer, and sitting in the paint like Zeller might. Pairing Olynyk with Sullinger gives Boston one of the best jump-shooting big man tandems around.

Playing Sullinger and Zeller together limits the range in which points could be scored, but the floor might be spaced a little more evenly.

What is worrisome about both Kelly and Tyler is their lack of elite rim protection. Olynyk only averaged 0.4 blocks per game last year, while Zeller’s 0.5 per game isn’t much better.

You can say that blocks don’t define defense, but their poor defensive ratings do. Both of them hold a 107 defensive rating.

To put that into perspective, Joakim Noah lead the league in 2013-14 with a 95.8 rating. Basically, Zeller and Olynyk have some catching up to do.

The other center I listed, Vitor Faverani, is only a slightly better with a 104 rating, and 0.7 blocks per game.

While Faverani is a slighlty better defensive option, it doesn’t mean he’ll immediately win the job over Zeller and Olynyk. Zeller brings in a solid balance of scoring and rebounding, and he will certainly be competing for minutes with the other big men on the roster.

While some say that the first-round pick is the best aspect of the trade for Boston, acquiring Tyler Zeller could go under the radar, but pay off huge come the fall.

Tags: Boston Celtics Kelly Olynyk Tyler Zeller Vitor Faverani

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