LAS VEGAS — When the Bobcats have the ball next season, Al Jefferson is going to set up his own personal KOA Campground on the low block. When he is out of the camp and resting on the bench Bismack Biyombo will be in that same spot.
Which means rookie No. 4 pick Cody Zeller is going to be out on the perimeter more, not exactly what he did in Indiana last season. Scouts would tell you Zeller showed off a jumper in Indiana practices, but last season he averaged 0.7 jump shots a game for the Hoosiers and hit just 37.5 percent on them (stats via DraftExpress).
Summer League in Vegas was going to be about adjusting to that new role for Zeller — and so far so good.
That adjustment is pretty far along if his second Summer League game is any indication — 23 points and 13 rebounds in the Bobcats 86-80 win over Dallas. He was 2-of-5 shooting outside the paint but he showed skill and took advantage when opportunities presented themselves. It was a smart game.
“He did everything — he moved the ball, he made great decisions, his rebounding was great. He had 13, he had 11 defensive, but he went and got it,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “He played well.”
“I just let the game come to me, I was more comfortable,” Zeller said. “Just more patient, didn’t try to force anything, was glad at the outcome.”
Rather than establish himself on the block Zeller was playing almost like a three — he doesn’t have the range to be a true stretch four but he seemed fairly comfortable out in the thin air away from the basket. He also did a good job of attacking and still getting shots in the paint off cuts and moving without the ball.
“It’s not a huge adjustment for me I was doing it even some in practice in college, and in high school,” Zeller said of playing out on the perimeter and taking more jumpers. “It’s not a huge adjustment for me but it’s just a little bit different.”
The Bobcats strategy for teaching Zeller what they want is a different than most teams would take.
“I’ll be honest with you, what we’re doing with him is a little different than the other (rookies on the Bobcats’ Summer League roster). We’re just kind of letting him feel his way, because he is so smart and the roles are different and all that,” Clifford said. “So it’s not like we’re being as specific with him because: 1) you don’t want to limit him and; 2) he’s so bright, you can see every time at practice he figured something else out.”
Zeller is clearly still learning nuances of the NBA, such as consistently setting good picks (he doesn’t get squared up, although the guy with the ball was in part to blame for being impatient going early). But he also showed a deft passing touch on a couple plays and just a good sense of where the ball should be moved.
A lot of heads snapped when Bobcats GM Rich Cho took Zeller No. 4 — that was higher than Zeller was expected to go and people wondered if that was a Michael Jordan pick. It wasn’t, that was all Cho. We’ll see how it pans out, but so far he’s looked like a smart player quickly learning a new role. It’s a good sign.