BOSTON – There are very few mysteries when it comes to the Celtics roster heading into this season.
One of the few uncertainties surrounds Guerschon Yabusele, the second-year forward from France that the Celtics selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2016 draft.
After spending a year in a China, the Celtics brought the big man stateside for the 2017-18 season. It made sense considering the lack of proven depth Boston had coming off the bench in the frontcourt.
Still, Yabusele never seemed to gain the kind of traction that warranted more playing time, evident by him splitting time between the Celtics and their Gatorade League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
The 6-foot-8 Frenchman appeared in 33 games for the Celtics, averaging 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from 3-point range. He also played in 14 games for the Red Claws and averaged 20.3 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 36.4 percent on 3’s.
But as training camp opens in less than two weeks, Yabusele has lots of ground to make up if he is to have an increased role from a year ago.
So, what does he have to do?
STRETCH THE FLOOR
One of the many reasons why the Celtics drafted Yabusele, is because of his ability to shoot from the perimeter. We have seen flashes of Yabusele’s long-range shooting touch, like when he knocks down a 3-ball and breaks out the bow-and-arrow dab that gets fans and his teammates hyped up and maybe a move or two from the big man affectionately known as the "Dancing Bear" for his nimble footwork despite being 260 or so pounds. But becoming a more consistent shot-making threat has to be part of his development this season. With so many shot-creators on the roster now, Yabusele will have opportunities to knock down open shots and improve upon the 32.4 percent he shot from 3-point range last season.
Boston’s efforts at position-less basketball has led to them having lots of players with great length, but most lacking the kind of physical girth to bang around the post. Yabusele, who weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 260, could be a nice change-of-pace player for them when it comes to the boards. Last season, the Celtics ranked 14th in rebounding percentage (.503) which is a notable improvement for a team that has been an NBA cellar-dweller when it has come to rebounding. For them to continue on an upward trajectory, getting more production from Yabusele when he’s on the floor would be welcomed. Last season, Yabusele’s rebounding percentage (.115) ranked fourth among Celtics who appeared in as many games (33) as he did.
Because of Yabusele’s size and skills, there’s the potential for him to have favorable matchups for himself or his teammates. His ability to recognize those opportunities and maximize them will be critical for his chances of not only getting minutes, but establishing a steady playing role for himself.
Playing time is not guaranteed for anyone who plays for the Celtics, even when they’re coming off good games. Preparation for any and all opportunities to see action has to be something that Yabusele mentally prepares for every time he steps on to the floor. He got a chance to start four games last season and his numbers, for the most part, weren’t too shabby. He averaged 21.5 minutes per start, scoring 7.3 points to go with 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Boston was 3-1 when he started, and Yabusele’s plus/minus was positive in three of the four games. Last season, we saw Semi Ojeleye, Shane Larkin and others go from limited to a non-existent role some nights, to that of a difference-maker in some games. Yabusele has to make sure when those moments arise this season, he’s mentally and physically locked in and up for the challenge.