In the Celtics something outta nothing trade yesterday Danny Ainge picked up two assets, Tyler Zeller and a draft pick, and an over payed player, Marcus Thornton, on an expiring contract. The top ten protected draft pick from Cleveland is the major prize. But the Celtics front office is said to also like Zeller, who as a Center still on his rookie contract fills a need on the roster and comes with a relatively cheap contract.
So what kind of a center is Zeller?
In overall metric terms the word that comes to mind is 'decent.' My draft class projection using the boxscore metric AWS, Zeller projected as the 21st in class based on his age and performance to date, approximately where he was drafted. His Win Shares per 48 minutes were slightly above average and his RAPM (a stabilized version of adjusted plus/minus) puts him somewhat below average, with his defense rating above average and being offset by a below average
On offense Zeller was much more efficient last year than in his rookie year, with his True Shooting percentage (TS%) jumping from .486% to .581%, a tremendous jump. That was mainly achieved by improving his shot selection, or at least shortening his range with his average shot distance from the basket dropping from 9.9 to 6.3 feet. In fact, over 50% of his attempts came within 3 feet of the basket, and the mid-range shots dropped, according to Basketball Reference as shown below.
|2-Pt Field Goals||3-Pt Field Goals|
|% of FGA by Distance||FG% by Distance||Dunks||Corner||Heaves|
|Season||Age||Tm||Lg||Pos||G||MP||FG%||Dist.||2P||0-3||3-10||10-16||16 <3||3P||2P||0-3||3-10||10-16||16 <3||3P||%Ast'd||%FGA||Md.||%Ast'd||%3PA||3P%||Att.||Md.|
He also improved his shooting percentages on the few mid-range shots he did take. So, if that continues, spacing won't be too much of an issue.
In addition, Zeller dramatically increased his free throw rate, a measure of how many trips to the line a player gets per shot from the floor, from .287 free throws per shot to .417.
On the down side, his distribution numbers took a big hit from a low base last year with a assist to turnover ratio of .57, well below average.
One of the main issues with last year's Celtics was rim protection, with only Vitor Faverani, who struggled with consistency issues before being injured, as a true Center on the roster. Zeller is no Omer Asik or Larry Sanders, or even Epke Udoh, for that matter, but his rim protection numbers are a step above the power forwards Boston played out of position last year as centers. Zeller averaged 1.7 blocks per 48 minutes, putting him in the middle of the pack of Boston's bigs last year (ahead of Bass, Sullinger and Olynyk, behind Faverani and Humphries).
Using advanced rim protection data Zeller scores a little better. Using SportVu data Seth Partnow developed a Rim Protection Points Saved (RPPS) metric that measures both how often a player contests shot near the rim and what their opponent's field goal percentage was when they do. Like all of the SportVu data it won't be until the end of this year when we can start to really determine how consistent player performance is, but the RPPS metric might give us a more complete measure of rim protection than simple blocks.
In RPPS Zeller ranked 32nd in points saved at the rim per 36 minutes with 8.43 contests at the rim per 36 minutes with opponents shooting 47% on Zeller contests (league average being 50%) in data through 3/22/2014. As this table via Partnow's data shows, Zeller may be an improvement over every player from last year except for Faverani, who fouled too often and over helped too often for his contests at the basket to help the defense.
|Player||Opp FGP at Rim||Contests/36||AdjSaved||AdjSaved/Gm||AdjSaved/36||Adj/36 rank|
|Vitor Faverani (BOS)||46.10%||11.34||83.9||2.27||6.14||20|
|Tyler Zeller (CLE)||47.40%||8.43||127.3||2.19||5.45||32|
|Kris Humphries (BOS)||50.30%||10.42||177.8||2.87||5.06||42|
|Jared Sullinger (BOS)||53.10%||9.08||196.5||3.02||3.97||81|
|Kelly Olynyk (BOS)||54.60%||7.97||96.5||1.66||3.09||117|
|Brandon Bass (BOS)||53.20%||5.48||118.4||1.69||2.21||155|
This makes me think that Bass-Olynyk line ups should never ever, ever, ever, happen.
Ok, summing up, briefly, again Zeller is a decent young-ish player that fits a roster need on a cheap contract. He brings some things the Celtic's need like being a relatively legitimate Center and playing defense like one, meanwhile his overall efficiency might not be as beneficial on offense as it first appears due to his lack of distribution numbers and (possible) spacing issues. He is still relatively young and playing on a cheap rookie contract. Not bad for cap space the Celtics didn't have.