Celtics

Celtics

For much of the Boston Celtics training camp, talk about Boston’s big men centered on newcomers Amir Johnson and David Lee, along with returners Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.

What about Tyler Zeller?

He doesn’t get nearly as much attention or fanfare as some of his teammates, but his value to the Celtics is undeniable.

As the Boston Celtics shocked the NBA basketball world in earning a playoff spot, Zeller’s contributions were vital to that success.

Acquired from Cleveland prior to the start of last season, Zeller averaged a career-high 10.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

Last season was his first opportunity to play significant minutes, and to his credit he stepped up to the challenge.

But as well as he played, the Celtics went into the offseason in need of reinforcements.

They traded Gerald Wallace to Golden State for David Lee, and acquired Amir Johnson from Toronto via free agency, both of whom will figure prominently in the team’s regular playing rotation this season.

Boston’s rotation is very much a work in progress, but it appears as though the Celtics will look to use five big men. All those bodies available will only keep Zeller out of the limelight.

Zeller doesn’t mind being relatively obscure, just as long as his teammates and the Celtics know different.

“I know who I am,” Zeller told CSNNE.com recently. “I try to go out and do what I’m good at. I can make open jump shots but for the most part I roll to the basket, try to protect the basket.”

Both talents were on display in Boston’s 124-91 preseason win over Olimpia Milano on Tuesday.

Zeller, who got the start at center, finished with nine points on 4-for-6 shooting while playing less than 14 minutes.

Most of his points came with him rolling to the basket, something he did plenty of last season which was his first as a Celtic.

Last season, Zeller shot 54.9 percent from the field. And of his 619 field goal attempts, 369 of them or 59.6 percent, were no more than five feet away from the rim.

Even with the career high numbers Zeller posted last season in most statistical categories, playing time is far from a given for him this upcoming season.

But it certainly hasn’t hurt that he was in the starting lineup for the team’s first preseason game and was among the players to take to the floor first for the team’s open practice last week at the TD Garden which included five-on-five scrimmage work.

Zeller’s play in the five-on-five in practice wasn’t all that different than how he performed against Olimpia Milano which served as yet another reminder that Zeller’s greatest strength is arguably his consistency.

“It’s very important,” Zeller said of playing consistently. “The biggest thing is my teammates understand what I can and can’t do; understand on the rolls where I want the ball, the kind of shots I want. Really, just trying to be on the same page with them and get to the right places defensively at the right time.”