PBT Draft preview: Great news! The NBA is getting another Zeller brother!

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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).

STRENGTHS

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.

WEAKNESSES

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.

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.