RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Cody ZellerPosted by BHayes on June 24th, 2013
The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of a number of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up 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. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.
Player Name: Cody Zeller
Height/Weight: 7’0”/230 lbs.
NBA Position: Power Forward/Center
Projected Draft Range: Lottery
Overview: Cody Zeller’s draft stock took a pretty solid beating in February and March, but a head-turning performance at the combine has him rising up draft boards again. Zeller is the perfect example of a player who so many once considered overrated that he has now become underrated. IU’s big man was a presumptive top-five pick if he had entered the draft a year ago, but opted to return for another year of college. He hoped his sophomore year would see his draft stock improve and his team flourish, but despite posting season averages of 16.5 PPG and 8.1 RPG, the latter came to fruition without the former. Teammate Victor Oladipo would become the real beneficiary of the Indiana revival, as the Hoosiers’ 29-win season launched Oladipo from the second round bubble into the top five. Zeller was not so fortunate. A real candidate to be the top pick in the draft back before the season, Zeller rarely dominated (his supporters would tell you he never needed to for IU to be successful) and often looked overwhelmed when playing deep in the post. In what would prove to be his final collegiate game against Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, Zeller’s performance was a microcosm of the growing concerns scouts have had about him, as he looked very timid down low in a 3-of-11 shooting outing against the Orange’s long, NBA-esque front line. The days after the IU tournament exit marked the nadir of Zeller’s draft stock, but the combine and interviews have helped his stock rebound immensely. He will not be the top pick in this draft, and likely won’t fall within the top five – a different reality than he expected to find here a year ago, but Cody Zeller enters the draft with good momentum and a real ability to immediately help whichever franchise selects him.
Will Translate to the NBA: Let’s take Zeller’s primary strength a step further than “NBA-ready” – he very well could enter the league and immediately be the fastest end-to-end big man in the league. That top spot can surely be debated, but the point is that most NBA post players will find keeping up with Zeller in the fullcourt to be quite a chore. Zeller’s end-to-end speed is truly elite and we have known this for awhile, but the extent of his athletic ability came to light at the combine. Nobody benefited more from the combine than Miami’s Shane Larkin and Zeller, with the former Indiana star testing out like a guard in Chicago. His vertical leap was 37.5”, and both his ¾ and lane agility times beat out most wings and a number of guards. That explosiveness wasn’t always on display in college, and Zeller will definitely need to continue to learn how to best apply it on the court, but the physical tools are clearly there. Furthermore, Zeller is a high-character guy who has shown a willingness to get better, so consider him NBA-ready from a personal maturity standpoint as well.
Needs Work: The physicality of the NBA will prove daunting for Zeller. The aforementioned struggles he had with Syracuse really provide a pretty comprehensive picture of what he must adjust to in the NBA. In that March game against the Orange, Zeller had his shot blocked multiple times and was really unable to figure out how to get shots off in the paint against the length off the Syracuse front line. He simply could not respond to a solid sock in the mouth, something he can expect NBA opponents to do on a nightly basis. That softness is also an issue on the other end for Zeller. He did put on upper body mass during his time in Bloomington, but he will be attacked down low by bigs in the NBA. He isn’t the rim protector that you would expect from a player with his size and athletic ability, so becoming a capable 1-on-1 post defender will be important for Zeller.
Best Case Scenario: Despite concerns about his toughness and ability to play in the paint, the upside for Zeller is still pretty substantial. In an NBA with a growing emphasis on mobile bigs, Zeller’s skill set puts him in good position to have a long, successful NBA career. It’s hard to picture him ever becoming a go-to offensive player, but his length and athleticism could be enough to make him a 15.0 PPG guy someday. The X-factor for Zeller is his jump shot. Whispers out of Bloomington report that he is capable of stepping out and shooting the ball from the perimeter, despite rarely taking the occasion to do so while at IU. If he is in fact more capable shooting the ball than his college career would tell us, or if he can make leaps and bounds in that area while in the league (Kevin Love being the poster boy for this type of growth), that ceiling gets a lot higher, to where we could be talking about an All-Star player. It’s not impossible that we see Zeller at All-Star weekend someday, but a realistic GM should be expecting something more along the lines of five to eight years as a solid starter from Zeller.
Best NBA Fit: Zeller is a pretty safe bet to land somewhere in the lottery, but pegging a specific team for the man they call “Big Handsome” is not an easy task. There are few teams in the NBA, let alone the lottery, that couldn’t use a big with Zeller’s versatile and easy-to-plug-in skill set. But if we are taking a crack at where Zeller might fit best, let’s start at #7 and the Sacramento Kings, where Zeller’s low-bust potential and stable, winning personality would be a nice fit for a young roster that has oft proven combustible. Other possible fits include the Portland Trail Blazers at #10, where Zeller would form a tantalizing offensive duo with LaMarcus Aldridge, and the team selecting immediately after them at #11, the Philadelphia 76ers. With Andrew Bynum’s impending free agency, the Sixers really need size up front, and Zeller would likely be the best big on the board if he is still around at #11.
Scout’s Take (from NBADraft.net): “Big man with an excellent basketball IQ and all around athlete … A gazelle. Runs the floor extremely well for a 7-footer. He’s also has great body control for a center, showing unusual ability to convert plays on the break… Should be able to come in and contribute immediately, which is more than can be said for most of the draft prospects this year… Did not make the significant jump in productivity in his sophomore year, in fact, his field goal percentage fell of significantly from FR to SO season … Sort of a jack of all trades, master of none type.”