Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller has always had the trust of coach Brad Stevens, but his minutes have yet to put that trust on display — until Monday night.

Zeller had his coming out party in the Celtics‘ 118-114 home loss to the Suns, playing a total of 27 minutes. Although Boston came up short in the win column, Zeller surely was not at fault, while Stevens was rewarded for trusting his fellow Indiana native.

The UNC product finished Monday’s game with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists, to go along with a block and a steal. However, it was how Zeller got those numbers that made it so impressive. Besides playing with unmatched hustle — whether is be changing a shot on the defensive end or tipping a rebound to a teammate — Zeller shot an incredibly efficient 8-for-9 from the field.

As crazy as it sounds, that has been an average game in terms of shooting the ball for Zeller this season, just in smaller samples due to playing fewer minutes.

As of Tuesday, Zeller is shooting an eye popping 25-for-29 from the field in nine games this season. That’s good for 86.2 percent — tops among players in the NBA who have attempted more than four shots on the year.

“Some of it’s [knowing what you can and can't do],” Zeller said following the loss. “Some of it’s my teammates, again, do a great job of getting the ball to me on time where I have time to make plays.”

“Some of it’s just taking easier shots,” he added.

So, will we see any bad shots from the seven-footer this season?

“Give it time, it will happen,” joked Zeller. “But, I mean, you’ve just got to take smart shots and make the plays you can.”

In case you were wondering, Cedric Maxwell shot 60.9 percent from the field in the 1979-80 season, which is the Celtics‘ single-season record for field goal percentage.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.

RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE

Eight appearances into his contract season, the Celtics captain remains equal parts brilliant and baffling. In one breath, we can confidently say there’s never been another NBA player like Rajon Rondo, and in the next we rail against his three straight missed free throws in the final seconds of a two-possession game.

Rondo is averaging 11.6 assists, 10.6 points and 8.4 rebounds for a Celtics (3-6) squad that arguably should have won its last six games. The only player to produce those numbers over a full season was Oscar Robertson, who did so twice for a middling Cincinnati Royals team as a 6-foot-5 point guard in a league featuring just nine teams in the 1960s. Half a century later, a 6-foot-1 Rondo leads all 30 teams in assists per game, assist opportunities per game (21.6) and points created by assists per game (27.1), according to NBA.com’s stat tool.

Yet, it’s somehow reasonable to expect even more from Rondo. His 30 percent free throw shooting (6-20 FT) is the league’s worst among players who have attempted 10 or more free throws this season. While his jump shooting from the elbows had risen well above the league average prior to his ACL surgery, he’s seemingly reverted to the version of himself who was timid attempting jumpers earlier in his career.

All of that adds up to this: The Celtics are scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the court and 110.7 without him, according to Basketball Reference. In other words, they would own the NBA’s sixth-most efficient offense regardless of whether the four-time All-Star was on the court. Likewise, the C’s defensive rating without their captain (111.2) is slightly better than with him (113.8), and both numbers would rank among the league’s five worst.

So, we’re left with lines like his 14-point, 10-rebound and nine-assist effort in a 118-114 loss to the Suns on Monday night. Except, he a) committed a game-high five turnovers, leading to 13 Phoenix points; b) missed eight of 10 free throw attempts, including all three with two seconds left in a four-point game; c) took just three shots outside 10 feet (missing two), despite opponents playing an average of seven feet off him; and d) shared the defensive load against a starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, who combined for 37 points (on 63.6 percent true shooting), 14 assists (against six turnovers), 11 rebounds and five steals, effectively negating Rondo’s near triple-double.

It’s important to remember the Celtics are nine games into the season, and Rondo missed the entire preseason with a broken bone in his left hand, so it stands to reason his performance should continue to improve on both ends.

Still, in the C’s last three games — collapses against the Thunder, Cavaliers and Suns — Rondo has been countered by Reggie Jackson (28 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds), Kyrie Irving (27-5-4) and Dragic (22-7-6), all of whom have signed or are expected to sign deals worth millions less annually than the Celtics point guard’s potential maximum deal.

Value: Descending

RAJON RONDO TRADE IDEA

Few NBA teams are in desperate need of a point guard, which makes it all the more difficult for the Celtics to deal Rondo should they choose to go that route. Even fewer of those teams are close enough to contention to be willing to take on Rondo for half a season while possessing enough cap space to keep him around long-term and make a trade worthwhile. And even fewer of those teams have the assets to swap in return. So, Ainge would need to get creative.

And how’s this for creative?

The Thunder seem set at the point guard position, what with Russell Westbrook signed through the next three seasons, but isn’t it possible Westbrook and Rondo could make one helluva backcourt? Rondo’s pass-first approach seems more likely to complement Westbrook’s scorer’s mentality than Jackson’s similar shoot-first mindset, and a starting lineup featuring Rondo, Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka is a fascinating force.

Of course, Oklahoma City must be willing to pay Rondo his money this summer, a tall task with Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka slated to make a combined $49.25 million next season. Still, the league’s latest television deal and a soon-to-be skyrocketing salary cap will make that a whole lot easier, and trading for a name of Rondo’s caliber might help convince Durant the organization means business before the reigning MVP’s own contract comes up in 2016.

The Thunder are among the few teams with enticing enough assets to land Rondo. Let’s say OKC general manager Sam Presti offered Celtics counterpart Danny Ainge a package of Jackson, old friend Kendrick Perkins‘ $9.4 million expiring contract and a 2015 first-round draft pick that projects to be the Thunder’s lowest selection in years. The Celtics would effectively replace Rondo with a point guard four years younger and roughly two-thirds the cost, adding a third first-round pick to the mix this June and maintaining cap flexibility for the summer.

“He is one of these guards that can attack you downhill, attack your bigs and score on them like the Kyle Lowrys of the world, Monta Ellis, guys like that,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said prior to last week’s loss to OKC. “With the ball, he’€™s a great rhythm player. He’€™s obviously being asked to do a lot, and he’€™s obviously very capable of doing a lot.”

Idea: Long shot

It's time now to ask the Magic 9-Ball.

It’s time now to ask the Magic 9-Ball.

RAJON RONDO TRADE ODDS

Both the Celtics and Rondo are still in a feeling-out process, determining whether each wants to spend the next five years with the other, and the first few weeks of this season haven’t provided many more answers than the previous seven.

Suns backup point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ admission on Monday that Ainge was the first person to call him at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 — the moment free agency opened this past summer — at least hints at the possibility the Celtics are preparing for life without Rondo in the future.

While they’ve remained competitive, the Celtics have begun to slip in the standings. If they start trending toward another 25-win season with a healthy Rondo in the mix, it seems more likely Ainge would start shopping his point guard rather than seek another star to pair with him.

On the other hand, should Rondo and Stevens right the ship and compete for a playoff spot, as appeared to be the case in Friday’s battle against the Cavaliers, the reverse seems a safer bet. So, while we may be one week closer to February’s trade deadline, the event horizon remains an awful long ways away.

Odds: 30-1

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Last year, Jeff Green began the season with a 25-point effort against the Raptors. “Maybe this will be the year that Green pulls it all together,” many said.

Green then scored 13 points in the second game of the year, followed by just seven points in his next game. Concerns about Green were answered early; he still couldn’t preform with the type of consistency that many hoped and believed he would upon arriving in Boston.

Coming into this season, there was no reason to believe anything would change, but clearly, Green has found his groove.

The season is still young, but nine games in, Green has been remarkably consistent, despite the Celtics‘ 3-6 record. Green has scored no less than 14 points in a game, and has carried the load on offense most nights —  like his season-high of 35 points in the Celtics‘ failed comeback in Dallas or the 28 he scored in Monday’s loss to the Suns.

A video posted by KWAPT (@kwapt) on

Green has displayed jaw-dropping athleticism on many of his plays this season, specifically getting into the lane for powerful dunks, and on LeBron-esque chase down blocks. Green doesn’t feel he has done anything differently this season during his hot start, though.

“I’m just doing the same thing and that’s just being aggressive. There’s no difference,” said Green, after the demoralizing loss to Phoenix.

Green may be taking the same approach as last season, but something has been different on the court this year. Scoring 19.9 points per game through nine contests, Green is more than five points better than his career average thus far.

Again, the season is long from over, but Green is off to the best start of his career. Fair is fair. If we are going to bash Green for what he has failed to do in the past, it’s time to give him some praise for what he is accomplishing now.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Other than the late addition of Evan Turner at a bargain basement price over the summer, the Celtics came away from NBA free agency empty-handed, but presi

Other than the late addition of Evan Turner at a bargain basement price over the summer, the Celtics came away from NBA free agency empty-handed, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made at least one attempt at a big-name player of small stature.

Moments after free agency opened on July 1, Ainge called point guard Isaiah Thomas.

“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said, “so if that’€™s interest, then I guess so.”

Thomas actually missed the call, but exchanged messages with Ainge before his agent Andy Miller took over negotiations. So, was the feeling mutual?

“I was interested in whoever was interested in me,” Thomas added, “so he was definitely a little interested if he was the first one to call me, but they went their ways and I went mine.”

Thomas’ way ultimately took him to Phoenix, where he landed by way of a sign-and-trade deal with the Sacramento Kings. His agent reportedly reached a four-year, $28 million deal with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who worked under Ainge for 10 seasons before finishing runner-up in the NBA’s Executive of the Year voting in his first season in Phoenix.

Thomas was notably one of six players last season to average 20 points and six assists per game. The others: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook. Had Thomas not been 5-foot-9, he would have easily commanded double-digit millions annually. Instead, he joined Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to form Phoenix’s potent three-guard attack.

(For the record, Bledsoe, a pricier restricted free agent, said Ainge did not contact him directly this summer. What about his agent? “Not that I know of. I don’t think they did.”)

As for the Celtics‘ way, it’s unclear why Ainge had so much interest in Thomas. They were five days removed from drafting point guard Marcus Smart. Presumably, the C’s had a deal in place to re-sign Avery Bradley, since news of his four-year, $32 million deal broke on July 2. Thomas would have been a massive upgrade over Phil Pressey, but the logjam in the Celtics backcourt currently limited their own diminutive point guard to a total of three minutes with a healthy Smart in the lineup for the first four games. All of which brings us to Rajon Rondo.

The Celtics captain is entering the final year of his contract, and Thomas had been rumored to be part of a package the Kings offered in exchange for Rondo this past February. It’s a bit presumptuous to assume Ainge was calling Thomas about a sign-and-trade deal that would have shipped Rondo to Sacramento, but it’s not out of the question the phone call to Thomas at the moment free agency opened was insurance for Rondo’s potentially imminent departure.

After all, it’s hard to imagine the Celtics would enter this season with Rondo, Bradley, Smart and Thomas all in the fold. Likewise, it doesn’t make much sense for Ainge to place his first call of free agency to Thomas unless he was serious about signing the 25-year-old, especially when the C’s had so many other needs on their roster other than point guard.

So, while nothing ever amounted from the C’s interest in Thomas, the fact they called in the first place is fascinating.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

We were expecting an exciting game from the Celtics and Suns at the TD Garden on Monday night, and that’€™s exactly what we got.

Rajon Rondo and the Celtics came up short once again. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo and the Celtics came up short once again. (Getty Images)

We were expecting an exciting game from the Celtics and Suns at the TD Garden on Monday night, and that’€™s exactly what we got.

In the end it was an Avery Bradley turnover that led to an Eric Bledsoe fast break dunk with 29.5 seconds remaining that sealed the Suns’ 118-114 victory. (Click here for a complete box score.)

The Celtics had trouble finding a shot on their final possession again, as a whole lot of dribbling and fumbling the ball around eventually led to three Rajon Rondo free throws. Rondo went on to miss all three attempts.

Jeff Green was the high scorer for the Celtics yet again, as he is beginning to find the consistency he has long lacked. Green totaled 28 points on the night and had a pair of monster dunks in the game.

Goran Dragic and Markieff Morris carried the load for the Suns. Dragic finished with 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists, while Morris dropped 30 to go with seven boards and five helpers.

THE FAST PACE CONTINUED

The Celtics have been an elite offensive team all season. So when they welcomed the run-and-gun Suns to town, a wild game was to be expected. As has been the case with many games this year, the score at the end of the third quarter looked like it could have been the final score (89-88).

The teams got up a combine 91 shots in the first half, while also combining for 24 free throw attempts. The up-and-down pace typically favors the C’€™s, but in this scenario, both teams were playing the way that they wanted to. 

DEFENSE REMAINS AN ISSUE

Brad Stevens has been focused on defense in practice following the Celtics’€™ loss to the Thunder. Since then, the C’€™s have allowed 122 points to the Cavaliers and 118 to the Suns.

The Celtics were good early on offense, as usual, scoring 54 points in the first half. The problem? They let up 60 to the Suns. Phoenix shot 50 percent from the field in the half, assisting on 18 of their 24 field goals.

Things didn’€™t get any better to start the second half; the Suns were able to score 11 points in the first two and a half minutes of the third quarter. In the end, the Suns wound up shooting over 51 percent on the night.

KELLY OLYNYK FINALLY STRUGGLED

Olynyk entered Monday’€™s game averaging 14.4 points on the season, having been one of the Celtics’€™ strongest players on a consistent basis. That came to an end on Monday, as Olynyk went scoreless in the game.

Offensive versatility is typically what keeps Olynyk on the floor to begin with, but to make matters worse, Olynyk was a clear defensive liability during much of his time on the floor. He was getting beat off the dribble often, both by his man, and other players when he switched on to them.

This was far and away Olynyk’€™s worst game since early in his rookie season.

TYLER ZELLER STEPPED UP

Thanks to Zeller, Olynyk’€™s tough outing didn’€™t wind up hurting as much as it could have. Zeller came off the bench to score nine points and grab three rebounds on 4-for-4 shooting in 13 first half minutes.

Zeller showed no signs of slowing down in the second half; he was an obvious difference maker throughout the entire game. He finished with 19 points on a remarkable 8-for-9 performance from the field. Zeller also had seven rebounds and three assists in what was by far his best game in green.

RAJON RONDO IS A TRIPLE-DOUBLE MACHINE

Once again Rondo neared a triple-double, this time falling one assist shy after being one rebound shy on Friday. This is becoming a nightly trend for Rondo, who has finished in the vicinity of a triple-double in practically every game he has played in so far this season.

Rondo’€™s totals for the night were 14 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three huge misses at the free throw line.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow
James Young

James Young

The Celtics sent rookies James Young and Dwight Powell to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League this past weekend. Both players made their debuts Sunday and showed why the Celtics feel so strongly about them.

Young and Powell were in the starting lineup and played big minutes as expected (36 and 38, respectively). They shared the role of leading scorer, each dropping 21 points, but in far different fashion.

Young stayed mostly on the perimeter, shooting 3-for-11 from downtown and 7-for-19 from the field overall. He added five rebounds, two assists and two steals while showing some hustle on the defensive side of the ball. We already know that Young is gifted offensively, so it was good to see him display so much effort on his defense — something that he will need to earn minutes in Boston.

Powell, on the other hand, was a force around the rim. He shot 9-for-16 while ripping down 17 boards to go along with a pair of assists. It was nice to finally see what Powell is capable of, as he has had literally no chance to do so outside of practice with the Celtics (Young has at least played limited minutes on occasion). He also was very strong on defense, displaying great quickness for a 6-foot-11 player. Powell has the ability to defend in the paint but also get out and cover the perimeter, something that could be valuable when he gets the chance to try to earn minutes in the NBA.

The Red Claws beat the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 81-80, if you care about the final outcome.

It’s just one game, but it was a strong first showing for both Young and Powell, who figure to be back and forth between Boston and Maine this season. Both were recalled back to the Celtics on Monday morning.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

The Celtics are quickly growing tired of talking about blowing big leads. It’s hard to blame them. But the painful truth is that it’s an ongoing trend that’s obvious to anyone watching them play early on in the 2014-15 season.

And it’s been a trend from the start. Against Brooklyn in the season opener, they led 101-72 after three quarters. Brooklyn closed it to 15 before holding off the Nets. Still, they were outscored 33-20 in the fourth and gave up 64 second-half points. It may not have been a concern at the time in a one-game sample. But it’s turned into a troubling trend.

Against the Bulls in Chicago, they led 83-67 after three. They held on for dear life for a 106-101 win. But on Wednesday against the Thunder, it finally caught up with them. The Celtics raced out to an 18-3 lead and led, 51-42, at the half. They were outscored 67-43 in the second half and lost. Friday night, they had their biggest lead going into the fourth quarter, 101-84 against King James and the Cavs. They were outscored 38-20 in the fourth. Against the Nets, Thunder and Cavaliers, they have given up 64, 67, and 63 points, respectively in the second half, losing the last two.

The Celtics are learning that there’s no better way to blow big leads than playing porous defense.

“I’€™m frustrated by it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I want to be better at it. I thought our energy and togetherness and sustainability was much better [against Cleveland]. When things went south, we came back. They went up by three; we ended up tying the game. Jeff made a great hustle play to get the free throws. You know if you turned on the TV last night you saw it in at least two games, maybe three ‘€“ and that happens. You’€™ve got to play all 48. You’€™ve got to be great all 48 against this team. And it’€™s not the same against everybody, but you still have to be on your A-game the whole time.’€

‘€œWe just got to win games, point blank, we just got to win,” Jared Sullinger added. “There’€™s no more lessons, no more moral victories, we just got to win flat out. Kyrie [Irving] made some shots, LeBron made some shots; that’€™s what great players do. There’€™s no answers we just got to win. In the NBA, no 15, 20-point lead is safe. You just have to keep playing.”

What’s missing at the end?

“I think the energy, the pop that we have normally when we’€™re playing well we have a lot of energy,” Sullinger said. “They had a couple shots our energy gets down a little bit. We just got to have that pop.”

Rajon Rondo was somewhat more analytical.

“Just to stay in our defensive intensity throughout the 48 [minutes],” Rondo said. “I don’€™t think we get comfortable. It’s just when teams are desperate they are going to make shots, they are going to make plays and they got us on the hill and we weren’€™t able to get consecutive stops.”

Rondo admitted frustrations are starting to mount.

“It’€™s a competitive sport,” he said. “We’€™re human so obviously we are little frustrated, we’€™re very frustrated, but we got a lot more games to play. We’€™ve been in every game this season, except for the Houston game I believe, we made a great run against Dallas but we go out every night and we play as hard as we possibly can. We’€™re just not coming up with the wins right now.

“It’s not difficult. I think for us when we get stops we’€™re good offensively. When we don’€™t come down, we get stagnant, our offense isn’€™t as fluid as what we would like it to be as far as we did in the first 3 quarters. We are a team with defensive stops and if we can get those then obviously we are more comfortable on the offensive end of the floor.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia