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Saturday, 11 March 2017 08:00

Prospects Putting in Work Near and Afar for Boston Celtics

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On the farm and overseas with Demetrius Jackson, Abdel Nader, Guerschon Yabusele, and Ante Zizic.

The Boston Celtics have a lot of stock in the future of the franchise – so much so that they punted on this year’s NBA trade deadline to preserve their assets, including unprotected Brooklyn Nets first-round picks in 2017 and 2018.

The NBA draft is a fickle process – one that even the Celtics’ brain trust can agree that they will never master.

There is an expectation and hope with Danny Ainge’s current batch of unearthed prospects that real NBA talent exists.

Here is a rundown of four Celtics prospects who have spent the majority of their professional playing time in another uniform.

Demetrius Jackson

If the NBA decided to disregard statistical minimums, Jackson would be tied for the league lead in three-point percentage with a perfect 1.000 percent mark.

Unfortunately for the 45th overall pick from the 2016 draft, the NBA does have minimum requirements to qualify, and I doubt that Brad Stevens – in the midst of a playoff seeding battle in the Eastern Conference – will give him much of a chance to do so.

Jackson has totaled 17 minutes of action with the Celtics this season, yet, his real on-court development has transpired in the D-League in Maine this season under the tutelage of Red Claws coach Scott Morrison.

Jackson came out in the opening months of the D-League season on fire, averaging more than 20 points per game on close to 53 percent shooting of the floor, while contributing 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists to his stat line, and perhaps most importantly, keeping his turnovers down to the tune of 2.6 in the month of November.

Since then, his numbers have progressively worsened with an increase of time playing with the ball in his hands (although he has righted the turnover ship in March with seven turnovers in four games).

Jackon’s dip this season shouldn’t be much of a surprise, given that his play as a lead guard was always going to be a steep adjustment, and a factor – along with his size – that contributed to his fall in the draft from a projected late first round pick to the middle of the second round.

Although at 6’1 Jackson doesn’t possess the prototypical size to play two-guard for long stretches, the Celtics have developed smaller guards (Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier) who didn’t possess typical point guard skills.

Danny Ainge has had a knack of presenting Stevens ultra-competitive players who consistently play hard and quite simply, ‘get after it’.

Jackson follows that mold.

“[He’s] an amazingly intense competitor. He wants to win, he wants his teammates to do well,” Mike Brey, his coach for three seasons at Notre Dame said of Jackson in a must-watch video.

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As evidenced by the above shot chart, Jackson needs to concentrate and finish better around the rim, develop consistency on his jump shot (both similar problems for Rozier), and get in-game reps with the ball in his hands.

Jackson does have the lateral quickness and stocky build to grow into an effective NBA rotation player, and perhaps most importantly, his compete level cannot be quantified.

Abdel Nader

Nader’s path to professional basketball – which I explored with him previously – is unconventional at best.

Never a standout prospect during his four collegiate seasons (two with Northern Illinois and two with Iowa State), Nader flashed the potential for NBA versatility during his senior season at Iowa State, a versatility that caught the eye of Celtics director of player evaluation and Red Claws general manager, Dave Lewin.

“I think that’s one of the first things that caught their eye about me, because I wasn’t a very well-known player coming out of college,” Nader told me of the Celtics’ interest in him. “When I went to their [Celtics] pre-draft, Dave Lewin saw me during Portsmouth and realized I had good size, athleticism, length, and that’s what caught their eye at first.”

Nader was never tendered a contract from Ainge and the Celtics, as the team lacked available roster space.

Instead, Nader was chosen with the idea of stashing him in the D-League for a season of development under the watchful of eyes of Celtics coaches.

After exceeding expectations at NBA Summer League, there was some speculation that the 6’6 Nader would bypass a contract offer from the Red Claws in order to secure more guaranteed money overseas.

Nader not only turned down those overseas opportunities, but he has continued to exceed expectations with his all-around play this season.

Earning D-League All-Star nods, as well as Player of the Week honors this season, Nader has posted excellent all-around statistics in Maine.

Through 33 games, Nader owns averages of 21.2 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists on 45 percent shooting from the floor and 37 percent from three-point.

The versatile forward was never more than a complementary player under then Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg, however, along with Red Claws teammates Jackson and Marcus Georges-Hunt, Nader has taken charge as the team’s best playmaker.

With the Red Claws steadying themselves for a postseason appearance, Nader is simply counted on to do a lot of things for the Red Claws, evidenced in his team-leading usage percentage.

Nader – who possesses an underrated motor on defense and has exhibited an ability to score in multiple ways – must cut down on his four turnover per game average (which is a byproduct of his on-the-ball learning experience).

For reference on how Nader’s numbers might translate to the NBA game, the D-League stats hub page has a nifty new feature that projects players’ performances from the D-League level to the NBA level.

Guerschon Yabusele

The “Dancing Bear” earned rave reviews playing in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) with the Shanghai Sharks, averaging 20.9 points, 9.4 rebounnds, and 2 assists per game playing alongside former No. 10 overall pick Jimmer Fredette.

Although the talent isn’t top-level in the CBA – as evidenced with 40-year old Stephon Marbury still putting up 20-plus points per game – Yabusele exhibited versatility and explosiveness for someone with his size.

Weighing in at a listed 6’8, 270 lbs during his pre-draft physical, Yabusele has a rare physical build that even impressed his fellow rookie – and soon to be new teammate – Jaylen Brown.

“That kid is a freak of nature that I had never seen, somebody so big and so mobile,” Jaylen Brown said of Yabusele.

Yabusele, who injured his ankle during the CBA playoffs, will get his injury evaluated by team doctors once he joins the Red Claws for the remainder of their season – an expected move that will only benefit the France native once Celtics Summer League rolls around.

Ante Zizic

Given the collective disappointment that was met when Andrew Bogut signed with the Cavs (he lasted all of 58 seconds before being injured), the Celtics have clear and evident holes when it comes to rebounding and defending the rim.

Celtics fans would take just about anyone who could rebound, protect the rim, and defend at an average – like accepting milk in the middle of the desert.

“Heck, I’m thirsty enough, this is great!”

The Celtics fortunately do possess a player who shares those traits, yet unfortunately, Ante Zizic took his 7’0 foot frame to play overseas in Turkey this season.

Zizic’s one season overseas was completed in part due to the Celtics’ lack of roster spots, in addition to Zizic admitting himself that he needed to develop his game more before setting foot on an NBA court.

“I was selected in the first round but I wanted to stay one more year overseas in order to prepare for the NBA,” Zizic told Eurohoops.net in an interview. “Now I'm playing in EuroLeague and the next step is NBA. I'm 99% sure that I'm going to be there on summer. I feel comfortable now and I think I'm ready for this step.”

What will the Celtics be getting next summer when Zizic likely joins Yabusele during Summer League?

Apparently a great prospect.

Zizic’s stock has climbed so favorably that some would have him pegged as a top-10 prospect in this year’s NBA draft had he decided to wait.

Instead, the Celtics nabbed the Croatian with the 23rd pick in last year’s draft, and will surely benefit from the skill-set that Zizic will bring – namely the pure size, strength, and ability to run the floor. 

Cory Prescott

Cory Prescott is the Editor at Large for Boston Celtics coverage on CLNS Radio. 

Cory is a graduate of Susquehanna University, graduating with a degree in Communications - Journalism.  While at Susquehanna, Cory spent three years as the sports editor for the school's weekly newspaper.  He also worked for the Crusaders Athletics Communications Department.

Following graduation, Cory spent time writing for the Maine Hockey Journal, as well as Boston Sports Then & Now, in addition to his own blog, Brain Freeze.

A native Mainer, Cory has been residing in Boston for the past few years.

Follow Cory on twitter @CLNS_Prescott.