You hate to say a guy made a mistake going back to college for a year, but in Cody Zeller’s case….
The center out of Indiana was expected to come out as a top 10 pick last year and he chose to return to Indiana for a sophomore season. And he pretty much looked exactly like the guy from his freshman season — he’s good but there was not a lot of development. Remember, teams are drafting a player trying to project a player three years down the road and progress is a big part of that. Don’t show any and… it’s an issue. He has fallen down the draft boards, a Top 5 guy in this draft at the start of the season that is now late lottery.
That said, the fact he is a legit NBA center with some skills — plus an impressive vertical at the NBA Draft Combine — is going to have him getting picked late in the lottery (DraftExpress has him at No. 11, to the Sixers, where he would be sure to play better than that center they picked up last summer).
He’s a legitimate NBA center — 7’0” in shoes, standing reach of 8’10” and he weighs 230 pounds with a frame that can put on a few more (and he needs to). What really caught scouts’ eyes at the combine was a 33-inch standing vertical — the guy has legit hops and can get up around the basket.
While he has great size he’s a good athlete and very mobile for a big man. He is the kind of big man that on the right team can get a lot of points by simply outrunning his man down the floor and getting the ball in the paint before the defense can get set.
But he can score a lot of ways, he has a good all around offensive game. He can score with either hand around the rim, can face up and has a jumper teams think can be good (he didn’t need to use it much in college). Plus he has soft hands. You watch him play and you can picture him as a good pick-and-roll big with someone such as Jrue Holiday because he can roll, catch the ball and score inside or he can pop out and be a threat.
He’s also the kind of player coaches like on the roster — a high motor, hard working guy with good basketball instincts and IQ.
At the college level as a sophomore, when he went against NBA-sized big men, he got pushed around physically. He has to get stronger and learn how to both defend on the block and hold his rebounding position. There are no more games against the boys, it’s the men now. He has to get strong enough to defend the Zach Randolphs, the Tiago Splitters, the kind of legitimate NBA bigs he will see now.
While he’s been a good college scorer with a nice offensive game, he’s going to have to adjust to doing it at the NBA level against longer, quicker, more athletic guys. He has the kind of basketball mind that should adjust, but it will take some work.
He also has the potential because of his mobility to be a good pick-and-roll defender, but he has a lot of work to do on that end of the floor.
WHAT DOES DAUSTER THINK?
We don’t get to watch as much of these guys as college writers do, so we turn to Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk.com.
There were quite a few people that were left shaking their heads when Zeller made the decision to return to Indiana after a freshman campaign that could have gotten him picked in the top ten of last year’s draft. Those concerns came to fruition during the 2012-2013 season, as Zeller managed to put together a disappointing all-american season, if that’s possible.
Zeller was a known quantity entering the year, and he didn’t do anything during the season that set himself apart from where he was last season. He didn’t add any new wrinkles to his game. He didn’t become a powerful low post scorer. He didn’t add much weight to his frame and doesn’t show off the kind of length or lower-body strength that would allow him to be an elite rebounder or a defender in the NBA. The images of him struggling with the length of Syracuse in the NCAA tournament certainly resonate.
Some of the critiques of Zeller are unfair, as he had absurdly high expectations entering the year. What he is is a skilled, versatile offensive weapon that has a back-to-the-basket game, runs the floor as well as any center in the NBA, and sports a better perimeter jumper than he gets credit for. He’s limited in some areas, but he plays hard, he plays smart and he’s a winner. He may not be the second coming of Bill Walton, but in a draft with a lot of question marks and risk, Zeller seems like a safe bet to be a starter in the NBA for a number of years.
WHERE DOES HE GET DRAFTED?
Late lottery, between 9 and 14. Dauster hits the nail on the head at the end of his section — Zeller is not going to be an NBA star for you, but he can be a guy who in a couple years you can count on for 20 solid minutes a night in the paint. That has value, it can lead to a long NBA career.