With non-NBA leagues approaching, or having passed, the mid-point of their season, it is time to check in on the Celtics most recent “draft and stash” players. In the 2016 NBA Draft, after picking Jaylen Brown, Boston drafted Guerschon Yabusele with the 16th pick of the first round, Ante Zizic with the 23rd pick of the first round and Abdel Nader with the 28th pick of the second round (58th overall). Boston also drafted Deyonta Davis and Rade Zagorac and traded both to Memphis for a future 1st round pick, as well as Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil. Jackson made the Celtics out of camp and has shuttled between Boston and Maine in the NBA Development League all year. Bentil was cut towards the end of the pre-season.
This check will take a look at their progress of Yabusele, Zizic and Nader and share some insights from scouts on each player. Sources told CelticsBlog that interest in Zizic has picked up around the league and he has the most interest from fans, so we’ll start there.
Overview: Zizic started this season playing for KK Cibona in Croatia before moving on to Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul in Turkey. He’s just getting started in Turkey (only three games played to date), so these stats are mostly from his time in Croatia:
27 Games Played, 23 starts, 16.9 PPG on 66.7% shooting, 7.4 RPG, and 1.2 BPG
Offensive Rating of 129.6, Defensive Rating of 105.1, Net Rating of 24.5. PER of 27.97
(For those unfamiliar: Offensive/Defensive Rating is a measure of how many points per 100 possession a player’s team scores with them on the court vs how many the opponent scores)
As you can see, his numbers are quite impressive. Below are some highlights to pair with the numbers above:
Scout’s Take: “Zizic is developing more rapidly than anyone expected. We thought he would be a 2 year project at least, but he’s probably ready to play now. He’s a plus rebounder who understands angles and uses his body well. His defense still needs work, especially in pick and roll action. He still uses his length better than his feet on that end. His offense is coming along. Still no real jumper, but he’s worked on his half-hook inside. He’s tenacious going to the offensive glass too. And his hands are terrific. Boston has a player. He should be able to help as a backup right away and, assuming he can handle NBA defense, as a starter before long.”
Outlook: Things are looking better than ever could have been expected for Zizic and the Celtics. He should either be in a Boston uniform next season or, less likely, used as an asset in trade before then. There is almost no chance the Celtics will burn a year of team control to bring him over this year.
Overview: Yabusele has spent the entire season playing for Shanghai Dongfang in China. He hasn’t started a game, but the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has specific rules about foreign players and playing time, limiting his chances to start. Stats:
25 Games Played, 19.6 PPG on 51% shooting, 48 threes on 38% shooting, 8.5 RPG
Offensive Rating of 126.1, Defensive Rating of 102.4, Net Rating of 23.7. PER of 25.62
Much like Zizic, Yabusele has done well. He’s compiled his counting numbers in only 29 minutes per game, again due to the playing time restrictions in the CBA. The CBA is also slanted heavily towards and offensive game, so Yabusele’s defensive rating is good at 102.4. Some hightlights:
Scout’s Take: “Yabusele has looked better than we thought he would. For a guy his size, he’s more athletic than we thought. He’s good off the dribble and passes the ball better than we thought he could. He just knows how to play. France brings kids up the rights way and he’s no exception. If he’d use his big butt in the post more, he’d be even better. Falls in love with the jumper too much occasionally, but that is a thing in China. A good team will coach that out of him. No idea who he can defend in the NBA. He’s quick, but not quick enough to defend most wings. And he doesn’t have the length to defend some of the bigger 4s and 5s. He is a good help defender though and solid at holding his ground in the post. He’s probably best as the first big off the bench where you can spot his matchups.”
Outlook: Another encouraging report. Yabusele might need a little more time than Zizic, but all signs point to him eventually being a productive rotation player. If Boston has a roster spot, he could be brought over next season. If not, one more year of development overseas could be in his future.
Overview: Nader has spent the entire season with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s affiliate in the NBA Development League. He’s started every game he’s played, but missed some action with a shoulder injury. He seems to have returned from that injury no worse for wear.
16 Games Played, 21.3 PPG on 48% shooting, 33 threes on 39% shooting, 5.9 RPG
Offensive Rating of 107.1, Defensive Rating of 106.4, Net Rating of 0.7. PER of 19.94
Nader has been an offensive marvel for Maine. He’s played with the ball in his hands quite a bit and has averaged three assists per game, in addition to the above stats. His defense isn’t as good as his offense, but the D-League also trends towards being more offensive-minded, so that is hard to judge too definitively. Nader has had a few big games that have produced a solid highlight reel:
Scout’s Take: “Nader is hard to project. Because the NBADL isn’t filled with good defenders, he might look better than he really is. He’s shooting the ball better than we thought he would and getting more lift on his jumper than he did in college. His basketball IQ is very high. He makes the right play more often than not. He needs to keep working on his pick and roll ball handling and passing. NBA teams will get on his right hand and make life difficult for him. He probably won’t rebound as well in the NBA either. Most of that is his size and speed, where he won’t have the advantage he does in the NBADL. But with coaching, he could learn to position himself better. His defense needs work. He could use his size better to body guys up and challenge shots. But the defense is so bad down there (in the NBADL), so who knows? Maybe he just needs a coach to ride his butt and get him in better body position. We still project him as a backup 2/3 without much of a chance to be more than a spot starter.”
Outlook: This one isn’t as rosy as Zizic and Yabusele, but still more positive than not. Nader obviously has the ability to play on the offensive end. He could be a solid bench wing with a good offensive game. Asked a follow up to compare Nader to Evan Turner the scout said: “Not a bad comp. Nader is a better shooter, but Turner is a better ball handler and passer. And Turner will get after guys on defense. Nader could get there. That might be his ceiling.”
Overall: The Celtics seem to have a stash of three potential rotation players. It is rare that an NBA team is sitting on this much talent that they control the rights to, but don’t have on their active roster. The advent of two-way contracts starting in 2017-18 should help the Celtics take advantage of getting their younger players a mix of NBA and NBADL experience. If nothing else, Danny Ainge has positioned himself with some valuable trade chips as the chase for a superstar continues.