By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The future is bright right now for the Boston Celtics. Not only are they one of the five best teams in the NBA, but a considerable portion of their current roster is flush with emerging young talent.
Marcus Smart is still only 22. Jaylen Brown just turned 20. Both are already key parts of Brad Stevens’ nightly rotation.
The embarrassment of riches from the Celtics’ youth movement is projected to get even better next season, particularly if Danny Ainge elects to hold onto the team’s top-4 draft pick (via the Brooklyn Nets). However, even if he trades that pick, Boston’s frontline is set for a boost with the possibility that 2016 first round picks Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic join the fold.
Yabusele took in his first Celtic game of the season on Wednesday night at TD Garden after returning stateside following a successful year in the Chinese Basketball Association. The No. 16 overall pick was a top contributor for Yao Ming’s Shanghai Sharks, averaging 20.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. He also showed efficiency on offense, hitting over 54 percent of his shot attempts and knocking down 36.4 percent of his looks beyond the arc.
“It was a great experience for me to go over there as an import player,” Yabusele said. “I have more responsibilities and it was actually a great season. We lost in the first round but we made the playoffs and it was a goal.”
A sprained ankle in that first round postseason loss limited Yabusele’s effectiveness down the stretch, and could impede his chance to get additional reps stateside with the Maine Red Claws over the final month of their season. While the Celtics have no space of their roster to sign him for the stretch run, he could sign a D-League contract for a chance to mesh with fellow draft picks Abdel Nader and Demetrius Jackson.
Update: Yabusele signed with the Maine Red Claws Thursday afternoon, the C’s D-League affiliate announced.
Brown, for one, was very excited to catch up with his fellow first-round pick ahead of Wednesday’s contest after the two bonded during the C’s summer league action last July.
“Guerschon is my guy,” Brown explained. “I went to go see him last night. As soon he got to Boston, he sent me a text, he was staying over — I’m not going to tell you where he’s staying — but he’s staying pretty close. I went over to see him. We probably talked for 30 minutes or an hour. I’m happy he’s here. We talked about him being in China, me being over here, and how much time has passed and how fast it had passed. He’s just excited to play and excited to be here and I’m excited for him. I’m glad he’s back over this way.”
While Yabusele’s playing status remains in question as his ankle heals over the coming days, the bigger question is whether he is a part of the C’s roster plans for next season. The 6-foot-8 forward has not discussed his future yet with the front office, but he is eager to show he can contribute at the NBA level next season. Boston owns his draft rights for the next several seasons, so they could stash him abroad for another year, if Yabusele agrees to it.
“I hope I can just make the team and play with those guys, and I’m ready for it,” he said.
While Yabusele’s progress in China is encouraging, it is still a very real possibility that the team could stash the big man for one more year overseas, depending on how the offseason plays out. With limited salary cap space and roster spots at their disposal, Boston’s brass might prefer to bring to ease the 21-year-old into the NBA when their won’t be such a logjam of young big men at the bottom of the roster (Ante Zizic is expected to sign in July as well.) Taking off Yabusele’s cap hold from the roster in order to create max cap space to sign a player like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin could factor into play too.
Boston has a few more months to crunch those numbers and evaluate whether the “Dancing Bear” fits into their plans, but the versatile power forward isn’t shy about likening his game to one of the NBA’s best versatile forwards at a young age. When asked by a reporter who he would compare himself to, he brought up Warriors forward Draymond Green.
While that comparison might be a bit of a reach, his future teammate (Brown) is confident his game will translate, whenever he officially becomes a member of the team.
“I think Guerschon’s a freak of nature,” Brown declared. “270 pounds, accounted for, I don’t know, it might be 280, 290 — he can shoot the ball, he’s got good feet. He’s the Dancing Bear.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.