BOSTON — The Celtics’ summer league roster is already loaded with lottery talent like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, but the team’s frontline got a bit of a boost this week with the revelation that Ante Zizic is expected to play with the team. Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe that the 20-year-old center is in Boston and will be practicing with the team’s summer league roster in Waltham later this week.
“I took him downtown last night a little bit,” Ainge told the Globe. “He’s just doing things like getting workouts in, getting medical stuff, physicals done, all that type of stuff. He’s ready for summer league.”
The 6-foot-11 big man was the 23rd overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Zizic spent most of the past season suiting up for Darussafaka, a Turkish team in Euroleague. The center held his own against other veteran players, posting 9 points and 6.7 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game for former Cavs head coach David Blatt.
There was a bit of uncertainty surrounding the status of the Croatian native last week when president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said it wasn’t clear yet whether Zizic will be active this summer. The team has emphasized that they are committed to signing him to his rookie deal and having him in a Celtics uniform for the 2017-18 season, but he’s also played big minutes in a physical EuroLeague for the past several months. Austin Ainge’s latest comments appear to indicate that he will be playing with the C’s for at least a portion of the team’s play in Utah and/or Las Vegas.
Zizic is expected to suit up alongside a talented cast of NBA-level players for Boston. Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey, Abdel Nader, Semi Olejeye, Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird are all expected to play alongside Tatum and Brown in one of the deeper summer league teams in recent memory. Another 2016 1st round pick Guerschon Yabusele will not be in action as he recovers from a minor foot surgery he underwent in May.
Based on how the summer goes for the Celtics, there is a possibility that Zizic could emerge as a top starting lineup candidate at the center spot for the 2017-18 season. The signing of a max free agent like Gordon Hayward on the wing wil likely force Boston to say goodbye to a lot of its big men from last season (Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk) and give the team limited financial resources on the free agent market to find some reinforcements.
Zizic is a mobile big man who runs the floor well, can hit the glass hard and is a hard cutter to the basket. If those skills can translate at the NBA level (beginning in summer league), he could be playing alongside Al Horford on opening night. For that reason, he’s a name Celtics fans should be keeping a close eye on this summer.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.