Summer Forecast: Center of attention
Today's Celtics Summer Forecast topic: Who starts at center?
The Celtics navigated much of the 2013-14 season without a pure center -- or at least one it could consistently lean on -- forcing first-year coach Brad Stevens to mix and match at the big-man spots, often playing the likes of second-year big man Jared Sullinger out of position.
Boston started the season with rookie Vitor Faverani at the center spot as he offered the best option for pure size (6-foot-11, 260 pounds), but despite some initial success, the move wasn't sustainable and Faverani soon faded from the rotation (and soon spent time bouncing to the D-League before suffering a season-ending injury).
The Celtics didn't hide the fact that not having a pure backline defender was a big reason for their struggles. Both Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens often noted that the lack of a rim protector was maybe Boston's most glaring weakness.
Boston didn't add much pure size this offseason, but it did land a young 7-footer in Tyler Zeller as part of a three-way trade with the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. While our 15-member voting panel was split on two particular options, it leaned slightly towards the idea that Zeller will be the team's starter on opening night.
Our panel was given five options for potential starters, including a combo of Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger (who often shared the floor last season, even though both are power forwards). The other options included Zeller, Faverani, Joel Anthony and Colton Iverson (who has since signed to play in Spain next season).
To our experts, there were only two options. A look at the voting:
This writer's vote? I believe Zeller will get every opportunity to win the starting center job. The Celtics can benefit from allowing Sullinger to play his natural power forward position and, even as the team looks to ramp up Olynyk's playing time, there's potential for him to thrive coming off the bench (while still pairing him with Sullinger at times as a potential early sub).
Zeller's ability to run the floor makes him an intriguing option with the starting group. It comes down to his ability to be a defensive presence and he's already stressed that part of his offseason has been spent on getting stronger and being able to joust with NBA 5s.
Faverani's rehab, and his offseason woes, make his future a little bit more cloudy. He has potential to compete for backup minutes, but the knee injury stunted any development last season and forces the team to start over a bit this year.
Read on to see how our panel responded in our forecast poll:
Michael Pina, CelticsHub (Olynyk/Sullinger)
Olynyk will start at center, because having him and Sullinger as a tandem in the starting lineup should be a priority. Boston played extremely well last season with those two on the floor.
Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (Zeller)
Zeller isn’t much of a shot blocker, but he’s a 7-footer with very quick feet that can disturb opponent’s shots using proper technique and positioning. With strong perimeter defenders like Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and occasionally Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, Zeller could have a career year on the defensive end. Zeller will have a lot to prove, but considering Boston’s prior interest in the defensive-oriented Omer Asik, it’d make sense that they’d want to put an inside big man alongside a stretch big like Olynyk or maybe Sullinger in the starting lineup.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Olynyk/Sullinger)
As the league moves to a more positionless style of basketball, centers have seen the most evolution. There are defensive specialists, stretch 5s that can venture out to the 3-point line, or more traditional back-to-the-basket bigs that operate in the paint. Olynyk is Boston's most talented big man with the most versatile skill set. He showed more lateral quickness and a bulked up body at the Orlando Summer League and held his own representing Team Canada versus Spain's Gasol Brothers and Serge Ibaka.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Zeller)
It’s hard to remember the last time the Celtics had some effective length in the pivot that was less than 100 years old. In comes Zeller, someone who can get the ball near the hoop and not totally screw it up. That would be a nice change of pace in the pivot, as the Celtics, for the most part, have not had a low post presence over 6-8. Zeller provides a unique skill set that allows for Stevens to mix and match his lineups with greater variance and more balance. While Zeller may be the starting center, he will likely rotate in combinations with Olynyk, Sullinger and Brandon Bass (while he is still here).
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Olynyk/Sullinger)
Play the kids, Brad.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Zeller)
I think Zeller gets the nod to start but I see Sullinger and Olynyk sharing the floor together a lot.
Julian Edlow, WEEI.com (Olynyk/Sullinger)
Look, Boston is in a full on rebuild. The Celtics didn’t have the “fireworks” this summer that they had hoped for. Time to start preparing to build for the future with the draft picks they have. Any option other than starting Sullinger and Olynyk at power forward and center don’t make sense. Zeller can earn his minutes off the bench, but we need to see what this Sully/Kelly frontcourt is capable of.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Zeller)
Barring an injury, the spot is Zeller’s to lose. Even if you were to somehow disregard Faverani's recent run in with the law, Zeller was brought here to try and man the back line. Sullinger has the strength, but can’t defend the rim, while Olynyk would get bullied down low as a starting 4. Anthony is bad at basketball, while Iverson was a long shot before signing in Spain. As his Per-36 numbers indicate, Zeller showed flashes throughout his first two seasons of being a more than competent center. He’s young, athletic, can run the floor, and with the loss of Kris Humphries, is most likely the team’s best shot blocker.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (Olynyk/Sullinger)
Every year the center position becomes less and less of a thing in the NBA, to the point that last season the league even eliminated it from its All-Star game. Boston is going to go with their five best guys; probably Rondo, Bradley, Green, and two of the three between Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. Even though neither fits in the traditional sense of the word, if you check ESPN.com's Celtics depth chart, both Olynyk and Sullinger are listed as centers.
Jay O., Red's Army (Zeller)
Olynyk has more overall skill, but might be best suited as a sixth man to come in at either position and spark the offense off the bench.
Also voting: Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Olynyk/Sullinger); Tom Westerholm, CelticsHub (Zeller); Padraic O'Connor, CelticsLife.com (Zeller); KWAPT, Red's Army (Olynyk/Sullinger).
Your turn: We invite you join the conversation. Sound off in the comments about who you think will start at center.
(Chris Forsberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNForsberg. Hop HERE to submit a question for his Celtics Mailbag.)
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