NBA Draft 2012: Breaking Down Tyler Zeller's NBA Prospects
After four solid years as a North Carolina Tar Heel, and an ACC Player of the Year award to show for it, Tyler Zeller will most likely be a lottery selection in the 2012 NBA Draft. It appears he made the right choice in playing out his senior season at UNC.
Despite his consistent career in Chapel Hill, it hasn't been easy gaining respect among NBA scouts.
Even with an ACC POY and four seasons of work on his resume, he still was overlooked in favor of his freshman brother Cody Zeller, from Indiana. When Cody pulled out, Tyler's stock rose.
So, why is it Tyler Zeller has been such a hard sell for scouts and analysts?
That's exactly what I will uncover in the fourth and final part of my series on the NBA prospects of Tar Heels entering the draft—and I couldn't think of a more fitting player to end it with.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Only slightly more aggressive than John Henson, Tyler Zeller doesn't get very physical positioning for rebounds. However, I have seen him gradually get more aggressive with each passing season. Physical or not, Z finds a way to shine the glass—especially on the offensive end.
In 2011-12, Zeller took over Henson's spot as the leading offensive rebounder on the team, racking up 146 of them—57 more than the second-place Henson. That averages out to 3.8 of his 9.6 rebounds per game. Zeller's motor just has another gear on the offensive end, for whatever reason.
It also may have to do with him being the lead on most of the Tar Heels' fast breaks, therefore there's no hanging around for a rebound—let Henson get it and go. We will get into that later, though.
Zeller seems to have a keen feel for where the ball is going to land and uses the bad positioning of his opponents to his advantage. He is a crafty player with a high basketball I.Q. who finds a way to clean the boards without a strong physical presence.
He recorded a 20-20 game against Ohio in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points and posting a career-high 22 rebounds.
Zeller also has a way of turning rebounds he can't get both hands on into tip passes—actually directing it to a specific player.
Continuing to get more physical, as he has throughout his career at Chapel Hill, will go a long way in making him a more efficient rebounder at the next level. Zeller could be considered a great rebounder if he makes a transition to the 4.
As a center, however, he will have to get more physical to find adequate rebounds in the NBA.
Pro: Free Throws
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
What can you say about a center who is second on his team in free-throw percentage?
Considering this is one aspect of the game which directly translates to the NBA, I can safely say that Zeller will be one of the best free-throw shooting bigs in the league. He has an extremely smooth stroke and a soft touch you don't see from many seven-footers, helping him convert 81 percent of his free throws.
Toronto's Andrea Bargnani leads all NBA centers, shooting 87 percent from the charity stripe. The next closest to Bargnani converts 77 percent—putting Zeller in second place, if he continues to knock them down with the same consistency in the NBA.
I only expect him to improve from there, as he has throughout his career.
Zeller was also the team leader in free-throw attempts, averaging 5.9 per game. Again, that would be good enough for second among centers, behind Dwight Howard. He may not stay at that pace in the NBA, but expect him to hang around the top 10.
Tyler Zeller only leaves a small window open for improvement in this category, and will step onto the NBA hardwood as a top-five center in the free-throw columns.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
One aspect of Tyler Zeller's game we saw the least, throughout his career at Carolina, is his range. Those that didn't watch just about every game he played in may not realize his range extends as far as 18 feet—and is quite accurate in his limited amount of jumpers.
Zeller's role on the Tar Heels was to clog up the paint. The few times he wandered into the perimeter was usually to set a screen. Every once in a while, he'd sneak out there for an open jumper and show off the skills he had to keep in his pocket at North Carolina.
The stroke on Zeller's jumper is every bit as good as it is on free throws.
I truly believe he will be one of the more accurate centers in the game. However, given the limited amount of jumpers he was able to take at the college level, I can't make any guarantees on how successful this aspect of his game will be.
One thing I can guarantee, is that he will have a deeper range than most centers in the league.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Whether he is being fed in the post or flying down the court to catch a Kendall Marshall bomb, Tyler Zeller's soft hands rarely drop a pass.
Depending on his NBA team, we may not see him run the go-routes we became accustomed to in his stay at Carolina. But whatever point guard is feeding him the ball next year, will be happy Zeller isn't dropping opportunistic passes.
All it takes is a drop to allow the defense time to collapse—and ruin a perfectly good play.
Zeller doesn't have great ups, so it's rare that you will see him catching alley-oops. He has no problem slamming home a putback, though, and he does that on a fairly regular basis. When he can't dunk it, he displays a nice touch on tip-ins.
Everyone drops a ball here and there, but there is a lot more finesse in the hands of Tyler Zeller than your typical seven-foot center.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Tyler Zeller has about average size for an NBA center, at 7'0" and 250 pounds. However, he could stand to pack on a little more muscle.
The typical NBA center is anywhere between 6'11” and 7'2” tall, and weight ranges from 240 to 280 pounds—only a handful tipping the scale that high. He will have a tough time with centers of similar size until he learns to throw around his weight.
Zeller could use an extra 10 pounds of muscle to gain an advantage in the block.
And though he is tall, his arms aren't particularly long, so an inch advantage in height may not mean much on the floor. His size may not be staggering, but it is right in line with the majority of NBA centers.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Normally, I would not be talking about the transition game of someone going into the NBA draft as a center. Tyler Zeller is a special case and we can consider this category a bonus.
As soon as Zeller sees a teammate about to get the ball on defense, he takes off down the court, seemingly leading just about every fast break. It's rare we find a center display the speed of Tyler Zeller, much less the will to actually run up and down the floor.
He also has the hands to catch and the consistency to finish, making him a real weapon in the open floor. Any team drafting Tyler Zeller should be prepared to take advantage of this bonus.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
It wasn't easy for me to list Tyler Zeller's post game as a “con,” but the fact is, he doesn't exactly have large repertoire of moves.
Yes, he has an amazing right-hook. He can even put it up with the left. However, without a true size advantage in the NBA, Zeller will have to establish a few new moves in the post before he can dominate the way he did at the collegiate level.
I did see him break out a few spin moves to get to the rim this year, so he is trying to develop something beyond the hook.
I don't want to completely discount his hook shot, though. It really is impressive how fast he can get it off, which makes me think it still could be effective at the next level. He can also consistently make them anywhere from 5-12 feet out.
Tyler Zeller will be somewhat effective in the post, but he needs to make his post game less one-dimensional before he can be considered a dominant force.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Tyler Zeller is actually a pretty good passer for a big, but he just doesn't do it with enough regularity to warrant a “pro.”
Only averaging 0.9 assists per game, Zeller seldom kicks it back out from the post. He does have a good eye for open players on the wing and will dish it when he see the opportunity. He has trouble feeling the double team, sometimes causing himself to get trapped before he can get rid of the ball.
Becoming aware of passing situations will help Zeller become more efficient in the post—and give his teammates higher-percentage shots. He is accurate and fundamentally sound on his passes, so there is no major deduction in points.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Tyler Zeller is neither a horrible defender, nor a great defender. I'm really beginning to wish there was something between a “pro” and a “con,” but this is the formula I used with the other three future-draftees.
In 2011-12, Zeller averaged 1.5 blocks per game. Relative to the best blocking centers in the NBA, his average is fairly decent and would put him near the top 10. But the players at the next level are bigger, stronger, faster and just better than the competition he has faced thus far.
Zeller just doesn't have the wicked length and vertical of John Henson, nor the blocker's instinct.
What he does have, is quick hands to deflect a pass or poke the ball out on a post-up. He also has a way of sliding in front of player driving to the basket. If they kept track of those stats in the NCAA, I'm sure Zeller would be among the leaders in charges taken.
Tyler Zeller may not be one of the best defenders at the 5, but he will cause his opponents quite a bit of frustration—and a pick up possible benchings for personal fouls.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Tyler Zeller's greatest “con” is his strength. His weight may match up with the majority of NBA centers, but he doesn't have that bully strength you typically find at the 5.
It only gets harder at the next level, and he will have to go to battle with much stronger bigs. This will become a problem in the post, getting backed down on defense and shoved around on offense. He will also have a tough time getting position on rebounds, so I feel his strength could be problematic.
Z has a good frame and shouldn't have an issue packing on more meat. He has managed to put on 30 pounds, since donning the Carolina uniform. Getting on a good strength program will go a long way in improving many facets of his game.
Overall Score: 89
Tyler Zeller Highlights
Overall, Tyler Zeller scored an 89 in my assessment of his NBA readiness. That tops Kendall Marshall (88), John Henson (86) and Harrison Barnes (84). I guess that shouldn't come as a surprise, considering he stayed through his senior season and was the most consistent player on the squad.
Zeller isn't an explosive player. He won't wow you with high-flying jams or turnaround fades. He is just an old-school hustler who gets the job done however he can.
He probably won't even be the best out of the group, when all is said and done—his ceiling is much lower. He is simply the most NBA-ready of the group.
Zeller will be a solid player, whether he starts or is just a role player off the bench.
North Carolina fan or not, it's tough not to root for a player like Tyler Zeller. He will give 100 percent effort every second he is on the floor, he doesn't get in anyone's face or incessantly whine about calls—he just plays the game right.
For those of you that may have missed out on Parts 1-3 of the series:
Part 1: Harrison Barnes
Part 2: John Henson
Part 3: Kendall Marshall