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- Measurables: 7-foot, 230 pounds, sophomore center from the Indiana University.
- Key Stats: 16.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 blocks per game; shot 56 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free throw line.
- Projected: Top-10 pick.
- Hickory High similarity score
I guess you could call Cody Zeller the latest from the state of Indiana’s royal family of basketball to make the jump to the NBA. That’s a title they might have to awkwardly battle the Plumlee family for, but Zeller is one of three brothers to have played in the NBA in the last two seasons. Everyone knows his older brother Tyler, current Cavalier and formally of the University of North Carolina, but he also has an older, older brother named Luke.
Luke toiled at the University of Notre Dame from 2005-09 before (somehow) catching on for a short time with the Phoenix Suns this season. All three were dominant high school players, but while the older brothers have moved on to the professional ranks rather quietly, Cody hasn’t had that same kind of stealthy transition — shown below as his NBA decision makes a small child cry.
Fits with the Pistons because …
Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are great, but they can’t play the entire game. Unless you feel comfortable going into next season with Jonas Jerebko and whatever low-end center option there is on the free agent market, Zeller makes some sense. He’s got legit size and he’s got some legit talent, and that can’t be ignored if you’re a team like the Pistons — good players will always help.
Jason Maxiell made the open 15-footer, and if he leaves in free agency, a replacement who can do that would help. Zeller can come off the bench, stretch the floor a little bit and work from the high post while Drummond or Monroe work down on the block. Floor spacing does come mainly from having shooters around the 3-point line, but having a big man who can be an actual threat from 15-17 feet is also important.
Zeller can play in a slow-it-down system, or he can get out on the break. There really aren’t any college basketball players with true post games, but Zeller is pretty good at navigating down low and getting position in his spots. His scoring efficiency dropped slightly in his sophomore season, but he still consistently put up 16-plus points a night.
Perhaps his absolute best-case scenario is LaMarcus Aldridge — another slightly built, jump-shooting big man who doesn’t rebound incredibly well — but more realistically he may be what his brother is in Cleveland, a more athletic, but less-skilled version of Greg Monroe.
Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …
His strengths aren’t really what the team needs. He’s not going to help as a playmaker, though he can play and distribute the ball from that high-post elbow area. Rebounding is something of a concern, as is his toughness and willingness to bang around with the big boys.
There’s a lot of things Drummond needs to work on to be a better player, but getting messy down low isn’t one of them. Zeller doesn’t have that same knack — or strength — to go down into the paint and really make his intentions known. The guys that Zeller was battling in the Big Ten were good, but going from Adreian Payne and Trevor Mbakwe to NBA frontcourt players is going to be his biggest challenge off the bat.
He measured as the most athletic big man at the NBA Draft Combine last month, which is actually surprising considering that he just doesn’t come off that way during the game. There are plenty of NBA player who are athletic, but there are some that rely too much on it and others who, quite frankly, don’t use it enough. I think he might be the latter. Not to say he can’t improve on it, but he doesn’t show that explosiveness quite enough.
From the Experts
Zeller helped himself tremendously with his athletic testing numbers at the combine. He tested as the most athletic big man in the draft and was in the top five of all participants at the combine. Now he just needs to complete the deal by proving to scouts that he has the perimeter skills to make the transition to the 4 position. If he shoots the ball well, he’ll move up another few spots on our board.
Zeller’s stock took a bit of a hit this season, to the point that he is no longer a lock to get drafted in the top five as he was projected to start the year. He’ll need to have a good showing during the pre-draft process, particularly in matchups with other players at his position, but it’s difficult to see him falling too far in the draft considering he’s an athletic 7-footer with tremendous scoring instincts. Barring injury, it’s safe to say Zeller will be in the NBA for a long time.
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