The Boston Celtics are currently in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race and are considered to be one of the top young teams in the league with nine of the 15 players on their roster 26-years-old or younger.
Boston has won 13 0f its last 17 games. As a result of their recent success, the Celtics have the third best record (26-17) in the Eastern Conference. A big reason that the C’s are in the position they are is due to shrewd trades, free agent pickups and draft choices that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has made.
Among the most important moves Ainge has made includes trading for leading scorer Isaiah Thomas (2015), picking up veteran power forward-center Al Horford (2016 free agent) and selecting shooting guard Avery Bradley in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Not only has Ainge’s moves put the Celtics in position to challenge for Conference supremacy this year but for years to come. The C’s are the fourth youngest team in the NBA this with an average age of 25.5. They have eight players 26-years-old or younger with most of them under team control at least until the summer of 2018.
Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green, James Young, and Amir Johnson are slated to be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. Tyler Zeller, Demetrius Jackson, and Jordan Mickey have non-guaranteed contracts while Kelly Olynyk could become a restricted free agent.
Perhaps Ainge’s biggest strength is his ability to evaluating talent. The Celtics had eight draft picks this past summer. Two of the choices are currently on the 15-man roster — Jaylen Brown and Jackson. The Celtics also signed second-round draft pick Ben Bentil but waived him during training camp. Bentil is currently with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, who are the Indiana Pacers’ D-League affiliate.
Ainge dealt two of their early second round selections — No. 21 Deyonta Davis and No. 35 — to the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2019 first round selection that originally belonged to the Los Angeles Clippers. He also stashed away three draft picks — Ante Zizic, Guerschon Yabusele, and Abdel Nader. Each of the three players are having excellent seasons and could join the C’s next season.
Ante Zizic, the No. 23 overall pick, told is currently playing for former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt with Darussafaka Dogus in Turkey. ESPN‘s Chris Forsberg reported that the Celtics’ brass is happy that the 20-year-old Croatian big man decided to transfer to Darussafaka after dominating his native league with Cibona Zagreb earlier in the year.
Zizic is very mobile and has good touch around the rim. He is an excellent offensive rebounder and is a very good free throw shooter. Defensively, he brings a lot of energy and uses his strength in the low-post.
Zizic has played in seven games for Darussafaka since joining the team in late December, averaging 10.1 points along with 5. 5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting 69.2 percent from the field (27-of-39) and 94.7 percent from the charity stripe (18-of-19). Overall this season, the 6-foot-11 center has produced 16.3 points, 7.06 rebounds, and 1.19 blocks while shooting 67.5 percent from the field and 79.1 percent from the free throw line.
Zizic recently told Burga Uzar of Eurohoops that he is sure that he will join the C’s Summer League team.
“Yes, of course,” said Zizic when asked about asked whether his definite plans was to play in the NBA next season.
“I was selected in the first Round but I wanted to stay one more year overseas in order to prepare for the NBA. Now I’m playing in EuroLeague and the next step is NBA. I’m 99% sure that I’m going to be there on summer. I feel comfortable now and I think I’m ready for this step.”
Guerschon Yabusele was selected with the No. 16 overall pick. The 20-year-old Frenchman currently plays for Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association.
The six-foot-eight forward is seen as a stretch-four. He is strong, possesses excellent athleticism and has the ability to create his own shot. He is a great rebounder who has shown potential on the defensive end. Yabulese’s biggest weaknesses are rim protection and turnovers.
Yabulese hasn’t said anything about playing in the NBA next season, but his current production rate shows his potential. He is currently averaging 19.6 points and 8.5 caroms. Which translates to 13.6 points along with 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes according to ESPN Insider.
Yabusele had a chance to show his ability against the Houston Rockets in a preseason game on October 2. And he performed admirably well, recording a double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds. He connected on 9-of-18 shots from the field though he missed all five of his three-point attempts.
Abdel Nader was chosen in the second round, with the No. 58 overall pick, by the Celtics out Iowa State. The 23-year-old Egyptian decided to play for the Celtics D-League franchise, Maine Red Claws, rather than go oversees. His rights are still owned by the Celtics as he did not sign with the team or attend training camp.
While not a great athlete, Nader is long and possesses a quick first step as well as decent handles. He has the ability to play pick-n-roll basketball and can create space off the dribble, which allows him to get off his ever evolving perimeter shot.
Nader is having a fantastic season with the Red Claws, averaging 22.4 points on 48.6 percent shooting, and 6.0 rebounds on the season. Nader has also shot 39.8 percent from beyond the arc and has doled out 3.8 assists a game.
He was named NBA Development League Performer of the Week for games played Monday, January 16, through Sunday, January 22. The six-foot-six small forward compiled 26.0 points, on 48.6 percent shooting, to go with 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals in two games. He connected 7-of-14 attempts from three-point range and was named to the D-League’s Showcase All-Showcase First Team.
Boston will have two first round draft picks in 2017. The Celtics own the Brooklyn Nets’ selection and their own.
[Featured Image by Steve Senne/ AP Images]