BOSTON -- Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele have put up big numbers playing overseas.
But will the Boston Celtics first round picks from last June do so in the NBA? We’ll find out next season, when both players are expected to be on the team’s roster.
“That is everybody’s plan right now,” Austin Ainge, Boston’s director of player personnel, told CSNNE on the CelticsTalk Podcast. “Things can change, but we really are excited about their development and their prospects for the future.”
Yabusele, selected by Boston with the 16th overall pick in last June’s NBA draft by Boston, currently plays for Shanghai Dongfang of the Chinese Basketball Association.
And Zizic, taken with the 23rd overall pick in last June’s draft, played for KK Cibona in Croatia but recently signed with Darüşşafaka of the Turkish Super League and the EuroLeague which is coached by Framingham (Mass.) native and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt.
Ainge recently spent time with both players in China and Croatia, respectively.
“They’re both doing great, improving,” Ainge said.
And that improvement will only be enhanced in the coming weeks as they prepare for what should be their NBA rookie season next fall.
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Appearing for KK Cibona, Zizic has averaged 20 points, 9.2 rebounds while shooting 69.5 percent from the field in 13 ABA League games.
But Ainge says those numbers will take a dip with his new team.
“He’s not going to play near as much on this team,” Ainge said. “First of all, coming over halfway through the season. But second of all, it’s a very veteran team trying to challenge for a Euroleague title. It’s just not realistic for him to play that many minutes. He was the focal point of his team in Croatia, faced double teams and all that. Now he’ll be more of a role player on a bigger team. It’ll be an adjustment for him but a great learning process. The team he’s going to, the starting center is Celtics old friend Semih Erden.”
Ainge also sees tremendous value in Zizic being coached by Blatt who has found success both internationally and in the NBA as a head coach, in addition to being someone who has been a fan of Zizic’s game for years.
“It means a lot,” Ainge said. “We’re really excited for Ante and this opportunity; a great coach that believes in him. But also, it’s hard for a 19-year-old kid to play on a team full of veterans in Euroleague which is the highest league in Europe. Most of the time, we assume he’s not going to earn minutes on that type of club. But we have more hope knowing that his coach really believes in him and sought him out halfway through the year to reach another level. So all those things are very positive.”
There are other not-so-noticeable positives that the Celtics can potentially benefit from by having Zizic coached by Blatt who spoke glowingly about the 19-year-old prior to the Celtics selecting him in June.
“The great thing for Ante besides great X’s and O’s he (Blatt) can teach, (Zizic) will be coached by an American in English terminology,” Ainge said. “That would be really helpful (in Zizic’s adjustment to the NBA). I know that’s a small thing but I think that would be helpful.”
The same can be said for the role that Shanghai Dongfang have for Yabusele.
Now 21 years old, the 6-foot-9 Yabusele has usually been the youngest player on the teams he played for in France which has often meant a limited role for him.
“We drafted him on these great physical tools and instincts and lots of great things that he has naturally,” Ainge said. “This year in Shanghai, he’s getting a chance to shine and they need him to score.”
In 21 games, Yabusele has averaged 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds with seven double-doubles. He’s also shooting 50 percent from the field and has an effective Field Goal Percentage of .562 with an offensive rating of 125.7 and a defensive rating of 102.1.
“Guershon has really scored the ball well, shot the ball well,” Ainge said. “He’s always had good defensive tools. So it’s good that he’s being pushed … to stretch his game. It’s been fun to watch.”
And for Celtics fans, it’ll be fun to see these two up-and-coming prospects bring their talents stateside next season as Boston continues its climb up the Eastern Conference pecking order.
“We’re excited about the tools those guys have to build on,” Ainge said.