RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Tyler Zeller

Posted by EJacoby on June 14th, 2012

The 2012 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 28, in New York City. As we have done for the last several years, RTC’s team of writers (including Andrew Murawa, Kevin Doyle, Evan Jacoby, Matt Patton, and Danny Spewak) will provide comprehensive breakdowns of each of the 35 collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll work backwards, starting with players who are projected near the end of the first round before getting into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation.

Note: Click here for all published 2012 NBA Draft profiles.

Player Name: Tyler Zeller

School: North Carolina

Height/Weight: 7’0”/ 250 lbs.

NBA Position: Center

Projected Draft Range: Late Lottery / Mid-First Round

Zeller runs the floor well for a seven-footer (AP Photo/G. Broome)

Overview: Tyler Zeller is the increasingly rare example of a four-year senior who could end up as a lottery pick after graduation. After struggling with injuries during his first two seasons, Zeller blossomed into a true college star. A legitimate seven-footer with great mobility, Zeller was incredibly productive in his final two years as a Tar Heel, most recently becoming the ACC Player of the Year as a senior. He improved slightly across the board in all areas from his junior to senior year, showing more facets to his game. He ended the 2011-12 season with averages of 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game on 55% shooting from the field and 81% free-throw shooting, all very good numbers on a team with plenty of other stars. He was UNC’s most consistent contributor and go-to offensive option, perhaps sharing the latter with Harrison Barnes on the perimeter. But Zeller was often more effective than Barnes with his touches, and the team was most dominant when he was featured. Zeller shows great agility for his size and was the perfect center for the Tar Heels’ up-tempo offense, especially in transition. He’s not an explosive athlete or shot-blocker, and he doesn’t appear to do anything exceptionally well. But he has all the tools that a center needs, and his ability to contribute across the board makes him an intriguing prospect with the potential to be an instant impact player in the NBA.

Will Translate to the NBA: Zeller has ideal size with a good feel for the game and fluid athleticism, so he should fit in right away at the next level. He’s a productive scorer, showing an array of post moves (notably the jump hook) as well as a soft shooting touch. At 81%, his free throw shooting is a great asset. He’s a hard worker on the boards with strong rebounding fundamentals that should translate well. He’s shown crafty finishing skills against bigger opponents and shouldn’t struggle to adapt to the size of NBA defenders. He’s also great in the transition game and should fit in well with the pro game’s speed.

Needs Work: Zeller has struggled against double teams, failing to find open teammates quick enough. He’s not a great passer and his awareness in the post is more focused on his route to the hoop, proven by his averages of 0.9 assists to 1.9 turnovers as a senior. He’s improved his body but still isn’t very strong in the post against tougher centers. He has limited explosiveness and a wingspan that just hits 7’0”, so he’s not a great defensive prospect as a rim protector. He also is very right-handed and could use work on his finishing with the off hand.

Comparison Players: A good comparison for Zeller is Spencer Hawes, another seven-foot center who’s a strong offensive player with his post moves and outside shot. Hawes is a better passer and shows more toughness inside, though both players play a similar style on the offensive end. Hawes became a valuable player for the Sixers this past season, though it took him some time to develop after playing just one season in college. Zeller could be more polished when he hits the league, especially as a scorer.

Best Case Scenario: It’s always tough to tell with a player like Zeller if his ‘good at everything, great at nothing’ tendency will become a benefit or detriment in the league. If he can continue to score, rebound, run, shoot, and defend spatially at a high level in the NBA, then he projects to be a starting center in the league and could be one of the most skilled players at the position. His limited physical traits and explosiveness means he doesn’t have All-Star upside, but his skill set could allow him to be an impact NBA center for years.

Best NBA Fit: Zeller could be a good fit for any NBA team that simply needs a center, which means he could be a good fit for any NBA team. He protects to be a starter at the position and could develop quickly if he’s given solid time to adapt to the NBA game. He played with other low post players at North Carolina but would be a best fit alongside a power forward that can stretch the floor, as Zeller likes to occupy space in the paint. The Houston Rockets have picks at #14 and #16 and seem like a perfect destination; a team lacking a long-term center that has Luis Scola at the four.

Scout’s Take (from NBADraft.net): “Runs the floor like a deer and will continue to work hard to maximize his abilities. Upside is somewhat limited due to his lack of strength.

*This post was contributed by RTC’s Evan Jacoby. He can be found on Twitter @evanJacoby.

EJacoby (198 Posts)

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2 responses to “RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Tyler Zeller”

  1. Jeremy Pfingsten says:

    The problem I see with Zeller is on the defensive end. When his team is playing defense he has a tendency to start to run back to the other end of the court to early. Granted, he still had more defensive rebounds than offensive but in comparison to the rest of the league he was 2nd in off. rebound and 26th on defensive.

    I know that might be going at him a little harsh but there were multiple games this season where he could have gotten a rebound or stopped the other team but he was already at half court. In the NBA not having your 7 footer under the basket could equate to a follow-up dunk for an easy 2. However, I’d still take him on my team any day.

  2. EJacoby says:

    Great points. I think the biggest concerns for Zeller are on the defensive end, as mentioned…. He had a (perhaps unfair) reputation of being ‘soft’ throughout his career. He’s not particularly strong inside on D. He has a high center of gravity and doesn’t have great lower body strength. Short wingspan as well. So he needs to put in more effort rather than take off early, although his assets in transition will be key in the NBA

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