One of the most talked about big men in the 2013 NBA Draft is Cody Zeller. He started the year off as one of the front runners for the National Player of the Year award and was being discussed by scouts as a potential number one pick in the draft.
As the year ran its course, neither of those things really came to form for Zeller. He didn’t have a terrible year by any means, Indiana was one of the best teams in the country and Zeller was a large part of it. It was just that Zeller seemed to perform slightly below what was expected him. It hurt his draft stock, which has fallen quite a bit since the start of the year, but ultimately, how will he develop in the NBA?
As usual, here is a highlight video put together for Cody Zeller.
Zeller is the younger brother of Tyler Zeller, a UNC alumni who just completed his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Luke Zeller who played for Notre Dame before going off to have a cup of coffee with the Phoenix Suns. They are sort of like the Plumlee brothers if the Plumlees had chosen not to play on the same team.
After his high school career, Zeller won Indiana’s Mr Basketball award for the best player in the state. Both of his brothers had also previously won the award. Because of his high profile, he was recruited pretty heavily by many major colleges. Ultimately, he chose to stay in his home state and play for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Expected draft position: Chad Ford has him going 11th to the Philadelphia 76ers. Draft Net pegs him at 8th to the Detroit Pistons and Draft Express agrees with Chad Ford’s belief of Zeller going 11th to the 76ers.
Zeller is probably the most athletic big man in the draft. His combine numbers were very impressive. He also demonstrated a lot of strength, much more than what many people would have assumed from him. His agility and dexterity is also far above average as a big man. Offensively that allows him to run up and down the court better than many guards and allows for easy opportunities at the rim. He also has a nice touch around the rim and outside the paint, something that seems natural and that should translate to the NBA.
His quickness and athleticism, combined with his nice shooting stroke make him one of the best pick and roll big men in the draft. If you switch on him with a smaller man, he will be able to shoot it over his defender and if the big man tries to keep up with Zeller on the roll, more often than not Zeller will have a speed advantage that will allow him an easy shot at the rim or two free throws.
As a big man, being able to shoot free throws at a good rate is an important asset. Zeller does just that, converting over 75% of his attempts. His offensive aggressiveness also means that he shoots free throws at a high rate so his ability to convert on them is important. Free throws are one of the easiest things to predict in the NBA, they don’t change from high school, to college to the pros. It is always the same thing and as such, a player’s free throw abilities can be easily predicted almost every time.
Another thing that is definitely playing in Zeller’s favor is that he has a very high motor. He is not content on just getting his numbers and looking good. He wants to win and it shows in his on court behavior. He is always running at full speed, jumping as hard as he can and simply putting in maximum effort every second he is on the court. Scouts notice those kinds of things because they are the signs of a player who is in it for the right reasons and also a sign of someone who should be quite coachable.
Questions about Zeller’s big time ability were raised when Indiana lost in the NCAA tournament. Zeller did not have a great post season, looking lost in a close win against the much lower seeded Temple and looking frustrated in their knock out loss to Syracuse.
Over the course of the tournament, it seemed that Zeller was not able to get his shots off comfortably. He was blocked at the rim numerous times by opposing defenders and that rose questions about his ability to play against fellow big men in the pros. If NCAA players were locking down Zeller so easily, how would he be able to score on the much stronger NBA players he was likely to face?
Defensively, Zeller will need to work on his pick and roll defense a fairly large amount. If he gets stuck on an island against a defending guard, you can basically count the points every time. Though he is tall and has great defensive instincts, his footwork on the perimeter needs a lot of work. As athletic as he is, he is not fast enough to guard anyone up past the paint. That will be a big problem for him in the NBA where teams will be in tune with that and will try and draw him out every chance they get.
Zeller also needs to work on using his size more to his advantage. He is a 7 footer who far too often plays like a guy 6 inches smaller. He needs to realize that he is really strong and able to hold his own down in the low post. Zeller can’t be afraid of contact if he wants to succeed in the NBA, it comes with the territory and he will need to get comfortable with it.
What to expect in the NBA:
Compare these two players’ numbers:
29.5 minutes per game, 16.5 PPG, 56.2 FG%, 8.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.3 BPG
28.2 minutes per game, 16.3 PPG, 55.3 FG%, 9.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 BPG
Player A is Cody Zeller’s stat line from last season. Player B is his brother, Tyler Zeller’s stat lines from his senior year at UNC. Granted, Cody is declaring for the draft as a sophomore when Tyler went to the NBA as a senior and two years could make a difference.
My point is though, that Cody is being heralded as a big time player when Tyler was only really projected as a project for the NBA. Their stat lines are fairly similar for being projected so differently.
Honestly I do expect Zeller to be better than his brother. He is younger, seems to have more potential and is more athletic. That doesn’t mean that he won’t have his work cut out for him in the NBA. He needs to make a concise effort at adding more moves and getting even stronger than he already is.
At this point, I think Zeller has been criticized so often that he is becoming a little bit underrated in terms of how people see his NBA stock. If he is drafted late in the lottery, to a team that will allow him to develop while playing a smaller role, I think Zeller will have a great chance at becoming a really good NBA player. If he is drafted higher and is forced to play a starting role from day one, he will not get the chance to really develop his game as quickly, which will in the long term, stall his development.
Ultimately, I think Zeller will become a solid starter for a good team and he should be one of the better players picked from this draft.