Five Players Have Case To Be C's Starting Center
BOSTON – The center position was not a pillar of stability last season for the Boston Celtics. The team’s 82 starts were split between four different players.
Vitor Faverani broke camp as the surprising starter at center a season ago. After just a couple of weeks, Kelly Olynyk replaced him and then Jared Sullinger and Kris Humphries split most of the starting center duties over the rest of the season.
An inconsistent starting lineup is something no coach or team wants. Stability is a key to success.
The Celtics would love to find that stability at center next season. They currently have five options who could start at center, and those options are outlined below in alphabetical order.
Joel Anthony | #50 | 6’9” | 245 lbs.
Many would scoff at the idea of Anthony starting at center for the Celtics. To credit those naysayers, the odds are against Anthony winning the job. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be given consideration.
Anthony is what he is: a very limited offensive player who excels on defense and does the little things. He has been a tremendous defender since the moment he entered the league in 2007. In fact, Synergy has rated him as a very good or excellent defender in six of his seven professional seasons. Anthony is also a respectable rebounder who provides energy with his hustle.
Though Brad Stevens used Anthony sparingly after the Celtics acquired him in mid-January, the big man does boast a history as a starting NBA center. He has 110 regular season starts under his belt and 16 more in the playoffs. He started 51 games for the 2011-12 NBA champion Miami Heat, and logged 13 starts during the 2011 playoffs as the Heat reached the Finals for the first time with their Big Three.
Anthony is undoubtedly fighting against the odds to win the starting job, but don’t write him off. He’s beaten such odds in the past.
Vitor Faverani | #38 | 6’11” | 260 lbs.
Who was Boston’s starting center on opening night last season? That’s right: Faverani.
Faverani drew rave reviews from his coaches and teammates during his first NBA training camp. He lived up to the praise as he started the first six games of his career.
The Brazilian big man stormed out of the gates by dropping in 13 points to go with three boards and three blocks on opening night. In game No. 2, he tallied 12 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks.
Faverni’s numbers dropped off from that point on, but Celtics fans got a taste of what he’s capable of. He’s an agile big man who has fantastic hands and anticipation in help-defense situations. He’s also more than capable of stepping out to the 3-point line and hitting shots.
Despite battling during training camp against the likes of prized youngsters Sullinger and Olynyk, as well as veterans like Humphries, it was Faverani who came out on top. Now that his knee is fully healthy and he has a year of NBA basketball under his belt, it wouldn’t be a great surprise if he can win the job out of camp again this season.
Kelly Olynyk | #41 | 7’0” | 238 lbs.
The Celtics and their fans have great expectations for Olynyk as he heads into his second NBA season, and rightfully so considering the way he finished his rookie campaign. Olynyk was phenomenal from mid-February on, averaging 11.9 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game over his final 28 appearaances. He also shot 51.4 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from 3-point range during that time.
Olynyk received nine starts at center during his first season. Six of those starts came in November, and the final three were logged during Boston’s final three games of the season.
He could be receiving many more in 2014-15 if he continues to improve. Olynyk provides so much despite his youth. He understands the game, spaces the floor and can pass and rebound. Those are starter-type qualities.
Jared Sullinger | #7 | 6’9” | 260 lbs.
The player who received the most starts at center for Boston last season was second-year big man Jared Sullinger. Despite his relative lack of height compared to most centers, Sullinger held his own during 35 starts.
Sullinger was the team’s top rebounder last season with an average of 8.1 boards a night. He also ranked second on the team in PER (16.4) and third in scoring (13.3 PPG).
Sullinger and many others are eying this coming season as his breakout season. He now has 119 NBA games under his belt, and he spent all of last season developing his 3-point shot. Combine those facts with the fact that he is an elite rebounder, and you have plenty of reason to expect him to be better than ever in 2014-15.
Will it be enough to earn the starting job at the center position? That’s yet to be determined. Sullinger is unquestionably one of Boston’s top young prospects and he figures to have a key role on the team this coming season. That role could be as the starting center, as the starting power forward, or as a top-notch sub off the bench.
Tyler Zeller | #44 | 7’0” | 253 lbs.
The one player every Celtics fan is curious about is Tyler Zeller, one of the newest members of the team. Boston acquired him, along with Marcus Thornton, via a three-way trade on July 10.
Zeller is an interesting prospect. He’s a talented 7-footer who was highly regarded coming out of UNC in 2012. Outside of Anthony, Zeller is the most experienced starter of this fivesome; he started 55 games during his rookie season and nine more last season.
Though Zeller’s playing time was limited last season, he still made an impact while he was on the floor. His PER of 15.43 was only slightly lower than that of Sullinger (16.4), and he put up strong per-36 minute averages of 13.7 PPG and 9.7 RPG.
Extended playing time would give Zeller an opportunity to show the NBA community that he can be a legitimate starting center in this league. The only way he’ll receive that opportunity, however, is if he outplays the other four players in this group when training camp breaks in late-September.