We knew this was going to happen, we just didn't know who it would happen to. The big man rotation works best with just 4 guys but the Celtics have 5 that are capable of playing, so someone was always destined to be left out. All signs in preseason pointed toward Jared Sullinger. Then Kelly Olynyk had to sit out the first game due to a suspension. That gave Sully the opportunity to force his way into the rotation as if we were battling through a box out for one of his many rebounds.
It wasn't long before Sullinger found his way into the starting lineup and Tyler Zeller moved from starting to the bench. A week ago Tyler blamed his own poor play for the demotion.
"I just wasn’t as good as I was in the preseason," said Zeller, who’s averaging just more than eight minutes per game. "My first two games weren’t at the same level as the preseason, so Sully came in and played very well and now he’s getting the minutes. It just shows that you have to play well when you get your opportunities."
However, Brad Stevens seemed almost apologetic when discussing the big man's demotion.
"Tyler's a really good player," Stevens said. "We just have a lot of bigs. I don't know how else to say it. We haven't shot it great so you want to play some guys that can stretch the floor and be guarded when the floor is stretched. And that leaves at least one person out."
As it turns out, Tyler was needed last night in the Celtics win against the Hawks. Even if it was just a brief appearance.
Zeller had logged only 14 minutes of floor time during Boston's five-game stretch before Friday's win over the Atlanta Hawks, which included consecutive DNPs this week. Then Stevens dusted Zeller off in the second quarter against Atlanta, tasked him with guarding All-Star center Al Horford, and Zeller responded with six quality minutes before resuming his role as sideline supporter.
From my viewpoint, Zeller didn't suddenly become a bad player. He's a solid backup center in this league. He's being underutilized at this moment, but that doesn't mean he won't be useful at some point this year. As much as I'm rooting against it, at some point one of the bigs is going to have an injury occur and Jordan Mickey isn't quite ready for the prime time yet. Amir Johnson's ankles alone are reason enough to have a backup plan at center.
Even if the team has perfect health all season, there's always the trade deadline. Ainge could very well find a deal to his liking in February. Trading from a position of depth and strength will only help him design the kind of roster he's looking to put together. Of course if all else fails then Zeller could be an asset to offer up in a package (perhaps in a deal to Sacramento?).
Regardless, I'm confident that Tyler is going to help this team at some point. Perhaps sooner than later, though the problem of not having enough shooting isn't going to be solved overnight. For the moment Zeller is going to have to bide his time and stay ready to step up the challenge when he's called upon.