BOSTON -- Last month we saw how the Boston Celtics rewarded Jae Crowder for making the most of his opportunity to play significant minutes after being acquired from Dallas in December. They signed the 6-foot-6 Crowder to a five-year, $35 million deal.
Will Tyler Zeller be next?
The 7-foot center is among three Celtics (Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III) from the 2012 draft class who are in line for a potential extension this fall. But of the trio, Zeller is the most likely to get a deal done prior to the October 31 deadline.
Sullinger has had weight and conditioning issues throughout his NBA career and is looking for a strong season to increase his value. Jones is looking to spike his value as well, after having spent his first three NBA seasons in the enormous shadow of Oklahoma City star and former league MVP Kevin Durant.
Zeller, however, performed at a level last season that few saw coming.
He was one of the more noticeable overachievers on a Celtics team that, in so many ways, exceeded the expectations many had for them. Boston wound up with the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference before being swept out of the playoffs in the first round by Cleveland.
Zeller averaged 10.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. And when he did play, he was effective: He had which a 19.01 player efficiency rating, which is about four points higher than the average NBA player.
Even though Zeller is coming off his most productive season, building off that success won’t be easy. He came to Boston last year at a time when opportunity was abundant for anyone who could essentially run up the floor and breathe at the same time. And, to Zeller’s credit, he made the most of his chances to play even if his minutes fluctuated.
Now, however, Boston's frontcourt has more proven depth than a year ago. The returning cast of Zeller, Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko has been joined by veterans Amir Johnson and David Lee, a two-time All-Star. It’s unlikely Zeller will get the kind of playing time that will translates into major minutes this season, which will certainly impact his next contract.
Zeller runs the floor extremely well for a 7-footer and was arguably Boston’s best big man at finishing around the rim. However, he is not a rim-protecting big man (although he does a decent job of positioning himself to contest shots) and his rebounding isn’t what you would want from a 7-footer.
Still, Zeller proved to be an ideal fit in coach Brad Stevens’ system a year ago. And when you look at Zeller’s overall game, there are few teams where he'd be a better fit than with the Celtics.
And on more than one occasion this past season, Zeller made it clear he enjoys Boston and is very open to the idea of being here long-term.
“But that’s something I can’t control,” he told CSNNE.com earlier. “All I can control is my play and just that speak for itself.”