Breaking Down Boston Celtics' Center Position for 2014-15 Season

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIAugust 19, 2014

Boston Celtics' Kelly Olynyk (41) and Cleveland Cavaliers' Tyler Zeller (40) chase a loose ball in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. The Celtics won 103-100. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

There aren’t a lot of positions the Boston Celtics are shored up at; they need more shooting, a long-term option at small forward and a featured scorer.

More than anything, they need to figure out the center spot.

The Celtics are clearly going into the 2014-15 season with a center-by-committee approach, since they lack a starting-caliber option.

That would be more of a concern if the team wasn’t blatantly rebuilding and the options weren’t young players with upside.

Say what you will about Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk, but we can at least assume they have more to show in the NBA than they have thus far.

Still, figuring out a solution to the center conundrum is neither going to be an easy nor quick process. This evaluating will take time.

With that in mind, let’s go player by player and break down how they could impact the Celtics at the center spot this season.

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 16:  Tyler Zeller #40 of the Cleveland Cavaliers attempts a free throw against the Brooklyn Nets at The Quicken Loans Arena on April 16, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Tyler Zeller

Acquired for basically nothing from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Zeller is the closet thing to a pure center Boston has on its roster.

He has averaged 6.9 points, 4.9 boards and 0.9 assists per contest for his career and proven game when called upon to start.

In 55 starts in 2012-13, he notched 8.3 points, six rebounds and 1.4 assists per night on 43.4 percent shooting. His numbers dipped in 2013-14 with a healthier Anderson Varejao, but he proved a more efficient and judicious player.

As you can see by his shot chart heat map, Zeller does most of his work around the rim, as a 7-footer should.

He’s not much of a post scorer, but Zeller knows where to be and has great touch around the hoop.

Defensively, he struggles with quicker big men but is at least serviceable in most matchups thanks to his height.

According to 82games, he allowed a player efficiency rating of 16.2 to opposing 5s, which was slightly above the league average.

He doesn’t offer much in the way of rim protection, but he is at least a body who can clog up the lane.

Unfortunately, Zeller is already 24 years old and likely has the least upside of any of the options at center. His ceiling in the league seems to be that of a high-end backup rather than a quality starter.

With that said, he could be the safest option as well. He knows his role, doesn’t ask for too many touches and runs the floor extremely hard.

Expect Zeller to play 24-plus minutes per game and potentially emerge as Boston’s starter by the end of the year.

Dec 6, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Vitor Faverani (right) fights for the ball against Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried (left) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Vitor Faverani

The 26-year-old Faverani had a trying rookie year in the league, but the Brazilian big man should be more consistent as a sophomore.

He averaged just 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 37 appearances before undergoing knee surgery. 

Unfortunately, he has had a pretty turbulent offseason.

There’s a lot to like about Faverani’s game. He can shoot threes, play in the post and even block a few shots. However he’s also a low-efficiency player (43.5 percent from the field) and not reliable enough from the perimeter to function as a stretch-5.

Still, there’s hope for Faverani.

ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg noted an interesting point:

Boston clearly needed size this season and Faverani's early season glimpses suggest he can help from the center spot. What was most surprising this season was that his defensive numbers were far better than his offense, which was the opposite of how he was advertised when the Celtics signed him last summer.

Faverani certainly did show flashes. He had a 12-point, 18-board, six-block performance against the Milwaukee Bucks.

If he continues to hone his jumper and adjust to the overall NBA game, he has a shot at being a regular rotation player. Nevertheless, he may still end up as a clear third option on the depth chart.

Ultimately, expect Faverani to play pretty sparingly. He isn’t as polished as Olynyk offensively or as dependable in an all-around capacity as Zeller.

He may receive 10 or 12 minutes per night at center, or Brad Stevens might give him a spin at power forward, but—barring injurydon't expect to see a whole lot of Faverani.

Apr 14, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) takes a shot as Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young (21) defends during the second quarter of the game at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Spo

Kelly Olynyk

The likeliest player to start the season opener, Olynyk struggled for much of his rookie year but came on strong in April.

He wound up averaging 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 dimes per game on 46.6 percent shooting overall, but notched 18.8 points, 7.8 boards and 2.4 assists per contest in his final five outings. 

His growth over the year was clear, as he became more confident with his outside shot and putting the ball on the deck.

Boston GM Danny Ainge expressed confidence in Olynyk when speaking with reporters, saying, “I think I’ve been really happy with how he’s improved. I think the coaches have done a good job of getting him stronger, a good job of teaching him the game and I think he’s a great player." 

Olynyk thrived offensively at the 5, posting a PER of 17.3, according to 82games.

His heat map shot chart indicates he was a threat both above the break on threes and around the rim.

Kelly Olynyk's shot chart heat map.
Kelly Olynyk's shot chart heat map.Credit: Basketball-Reference.com.

Unfortunately, he also gave up a staggering 24.6 PER against centers.

He’ll need to improve defensively if he wants to lock down the starting position. Given that Jared Sullinger is limited defensively, the C’s need Olynyk to reliably guard the post and protect the paint.

He’s not much of a shot-blocker but has the potential to at least be an effective defender in Stevens’ system.

Olynyk averaged just 20 minutes per game in 2013-14, but that should jump to around 28 in 2014-15, largely at center.

It won’t always be smooth, but Olynyk has the best shot of anyone to become Boston’s center of the future.

Mar 17, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Boston Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) reacts after scoring during the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Other Options 

Since none of the other options are exactly thrilling, the C’s could opt to use Brandon Bass or Sullinger for spot minutes at the 5.

Both are undersized, but they’re gritty players who can give Boston some interior muscle.

Sully is far and away the Celts’ best rebounder, and Bass is a capable frontcourt defender and jump-shooter.

With that said, Sullinger’s future is likelier at power forward. Bass, on an expiring deal, probably won’t last in green past 2015.

There is also the option of trotting out the decrepit Joel Anthony, although let’s all hope Boston opts against that.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Final Verdict

This is going to be ugly.

Expect Olynyk to begin the season as the starter and Zeller to receive the brunt of the backup minutes.

If Olynyk underperforms or the C’s struggle too much on the defensive end with the Sullinger-Olynyk pairing, they may sub him for Zeller.

Faverani won’t be receiving minutes unless there is an injury to one of the players in front of him on the depth chart.

Boston will likely try to run some smaller lineups with Bass or Sullinger in certain matchups, but both will spend most of their time at the 4.

The Celts have lots of holes on their roster, but the center position might be the most glaring one. The solution isn't on the current roster and will likely come through the draft or free agency.


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