Guerschon Yabusele was in attendance for Boston’s hard fought win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, and Celtics fans have long awaited to see the 17th pick’s first minutes back in the United States, even if he’s just settling in with the Maine Red Claws for now. The trade deadline had us arguing over which available star forward would best fit the team’s future, but we lost sight of some of our most treasured building blocks - stashed players. While the roster continues to revolve around its guards, Brad Stevens’ small-ball pocket strategy has not withstood the test of time and has been replaced by fielding a slew of forwards to spread the floor on offense and switch fluidly on defense. This is made possible mostly by Marcus Smart (a spiritual forward) and Jae Crowder, who can hold their ground against larger players and stay in front of slippery guards. While some would say we “missed out” on the likes of Jimmy Butler and Paul George, I would argue the Guershon might better fit the team’s needs, which is bulk. The stats he posted in China mean next to nothing (Jimmer Fredette scores 37 ppg), but that won’t hurt anybody’s optimism about him.
The Dancing Bear is 6’8” and 260 pounds. He’s huge. And mobile. He’s listed as a power forward but could easily play at the three with his quickness, and the small forward position is where the Celtics currently lack the most depth. And by depth, I mean that an injury to Jae Crowder or Jaylen Brown would mean too much dependence on the other, opening up minutes to a consistently streaky Gerald Green. While size may not guarantee rebounds, one could hope that Yabusele would assert himself on the boards the way Smart, Crowder, and Brown have. 9.4 rebounds per game in the Chinese league is encouraging, but former Celtic Shavlik Randolph is averaging 10 after never averaging more than 4.4 rebounds in the NBA.
Almost any highlight video you find from his tenure in China will look like this one. You can see his strength, mechanics, and aggression, but also the size of his opposition, and that’s when you throw stats out the window. I’m not trashing the Chinese players for the sake of trashing them, just take a look at the leading scorers. All imports. Former Celtics MarShon Brooks (36.2 ppg) and Lester Hudson (31.9 ppg) are also in the CBA’s top ten scorers, for reference.
We may not know who’s involved in the Celtics’ long-term plans among the expiring contracts of James Young, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, and Gerald Green, but the team declined Young’s option for 2017, which could mean two roster spots at Yabu’s position opening up if they don’t retain Gerald Green. On that note, should they re-sign Green? While his minutes and production have been sporadic, he’s been one of the lone veteran presences on a young team, as well as one of the most vocal players in the locker room. It’s up for debate as to how valuable that type of presence is, but it seems the popular opinion among fans, including myself, is that we value chemistry above all else. Still, Abdel Nader is averaging 21 ppg for the Red Claws after turning out as one of the most impressive summer league players for the Celtics, so he could make a run for any potential open roster spots as well. Obviously, those stats don’t transfer to the next level (see: RJ Hunter, James Young), but I’m still hyped from Nader’s summer league showing, mainly his shooting, NBA-ready body, and sound decision making. You could say I’m easily impressed.
This summer, the Celtics are expected to open up trade and free agent discussions with the usual suspects (minus Kevin Durant, one would assume). Many have said the value of Jimmy Butler and Paul George can only drop as time passes, which is true if you think NBA GMs think the same way analysts do (note: they don’t). I’ve not convinced the price for said players will drop until Larry Bird or GarPax themselves say so (prediction: they won’t). Guerschon is not the scoring machine that Ainge was hunting at the deadline, and I won’t try to convince you otherwise. My point is this: the NBA has turned into a super-team arms race, but no trend lasts forever. The 2008 Celtics, a team that’s been partially credited for starting this trend, had nobody scoring more than 19 per game among their three surefire Hall-of-Famers. NBA progression is not linear nor is it formulaic, and the Celtics, therefore, do not need to emulate the strategy of any team that currently sits atop the standings. Keep the picks, give Yabusele a shot, bring Ante Zizic over, and move on from there. Or, sign Gordon Hayward. Either option works for me.