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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.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.