Zeller's Still a Pup, but Chows Down on Lakers

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BOSTON – Tyler Zeller continues to start at center for the Boston Celtics.

And he continues to get better and better.

Zeller started his fourth game of the season Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, and for the fourth time in as many games, he improved. He dominated the Lakers, racking up a career-high 24 points to go along with a season-high and game-high 14 rebounds.

“It’s just one of those games I got going early,” a modest Zeller said after the game. “(Rajon) Rondo did a great job, found me for a couple of easy baskets in the beginning and then from there it just kept going. Somehow I just ended up open all the time and I just made shots.”

Yeah, like… all of them.

Zeller finished the night having made 10 of his 11 shot attempts. And they weren’t all easy conversions.

Boston’s big man controlled the paint by making eight of his nine shot attempts around the restricted area. Some of those shots were simple, but he also put home several difficult finishes in traffic. Zeller also showcased his shooting range, hitting a 15-footer from the left elbow and a 17-footer from the left wing.

The greatest factor to Zeller’s breakout performance was his partnership with Rondo. Zeller and his captain have seemingly built unprecedented chemistry, which leads to sweet music when they run the pick-and-roll.

Zeller is Boston’s largest body and he sets great screens to free Rondo up to turn the corner and penetrate. Zeller’s screens, combined with his great hands and rolling ability, combine to create a lethal pick-and-roll partnership between the two players.

“It’s the way he rolls,” Rondo said of why the two are such a successful tandem. “He gets into the right seams where I can find him and make it easy for him. Like I said, he always has his hands ready and he’s a great finisher.”

Stevens gave some additional detail regarding Zeller’s finishing ability.

"Tyler’s got that nice little flip shot at five or seven feet, where he can shoot it with either hand and he doesn’t have to get all the way to the rim to finish,” Stevens explained. “So Rondo looks for him, and that’s a good thing.”

Rondo looked for Zeller early and often Friday night. The four-time All-Star assisted on six of Zeller’s 10 makes, prompting the center to make a bold statement about his floor general and partner.

“Rondo’s probably the best passer in the league,” Zeller stated. “You can argue that, but I would say he’s the best passer in the league, and he’s somebody that if you set the right screens and give him space, he’s going to make the right plays.”

On Friday night, these plays revolved around getting the ball into Zeller’s hands as he rolled to the basket. This may become a staple for Boston as the big man continues his growth as a player.

Stevens was quick to remind reporters that Zeller is only in his third NBA season. He has started only 13 games over the past two seasons and he has never averaged more than 26.4 minutes per game during his career. Suffice to say, he has a ton of room for improvement.

“He’s still a puppy in this thing,” said Stevens.

That comment drew a few laughs from Boston’s crop of media members. When informed of his coach’s one-liner, Zeller also smiled, all before making his own comment about his potential as a player.

“I’ve got a lot of growing left to do, and I know that,” commented Zeller. “But it’s one of those things that, I hope I use this as a stepping stone and continue to grow on this.”

The past four games have given us plenty of reason to believe that Zeller will do so. He has improved with every start, and there’s no reason to believe that this trend will cease. This could just be the tip of the iceberg for the 24-year-old pup.