A common refrain around this team is that the Celtics need a big man who can rebound and protect the paint.
That role has largely been filled by veteran Amir Johnson who certainly knows his rotations and has the experience that makes coaches feel secure. But Johnson seems to be slowing down a bit at the tender age of 29 years. Besides, he’s never been the bounciest guy on the floor and he’s often matched up with unicorns and human pogo sticks.
Jordan Mickey, however, has plenty of bounce to spare. He’s young and long and athletic and loves to seek and destroy shots in the paint. Last night he went from buried on the bench to getting his first career start (because Stevens wanted to keep the 2nd unit rotation in place). He even had his parents in town to watch the game last night.
In 14 minutes of work, he scored 4 points, grabbed 2 rebounds (one offensive), recorded an assist, and had one monster rejection. He also had two turnovers and finished with a negative 5 plus-minus. So sample size aside, he’s clearly still learning. But he’s got some good potential, as outlined by teammate Al Horford.
"He has a lot of potential," Al Horford said. "He has really good footwork - really, really good footwork - around the block. He has deceptive athleticism. That's probably the biggest thing. So defensively I feel like he's going to be able to help us."
Mickey could see some more work in the next few games as Johnson recovers from rolling his ankle. If he can perform well enough, he could prove that he belongs in the rotation. If he can do that, then the Celtics would at least have a guy with good footwork and plenty of bounce paroling the paint.
Jordan is probably not going to be a major difference maker any time soon. He’s still a guy that has spent most of his career in the D-League or at the end of the bench. He’s going to make young-player mistakes and miss rotations. But he’s also going to learn and grow with experience. Given enough time and development, he could end up being a prototypical modern day big man.
Tyler Zeller’s $8M expiring contract is eligible to be traded on Jan. 15th (this Sunday). If the Celtics need to match salaries in a trade at the deadline, he would be a logical choice to be included. If Mickey can at least prove that he’s a viable backup plan for Brad Stevens, then that would be a positive development for the team.