Breaking Down Cody Zeller's NBA Potential and Draft Stock
Cody Zeller possesses one of the most polished offensive skill sets of any NBA prospect in the country. He's been put under the microscope since Day 1 as the centerpiece of Indiana basketball, and will now enter the draft as a surefire lottery selection.
While many consider him the most skilled big man in the draft, there are some who feel his weaknesses could end up holding him back.
Zeller averaged 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds on 56 percent shooting as a sophomore.
Zeller made all sorts of noise at the combine, testing as the top athlete amongst the bigs after measuring in at a legit 7'0''. He does lack strength, but his mobility and high basketball IQ allow him to navigate around stronger defenders and finish around them.
His foot speed and grace are a big reason why he's capable of playing face-up basketball, which is what should allow him to play the 4 at the next level. He's agile enough to elude defenders on his path to the hole while moving at full speed.
Zeller's mobility is also a huge plus in the strengths category. He gets himself at least one or two easy baskets a game just beating his man down the floor for an uncontested layup in transition. Teams that play uptempo will love what Zeller can offer in the full-court game.
Offensive Polish and Scoring Instincts
Zeller's offensive post-game is extremely advanced for a kid his age. With his back to the basket, Zeller has excellent footwork that allows him to create separation turning over either shoulder. Turning over his right shoulder, he sports a high release to keep from being contested, or he uses his left hand to finish depending on the defender's positioning.
He has a quick first step, which makes him tough to guard at the high post and dangerous on the low block. His touch and hands within 10 feet of the rim are as soft as a baby's bottom, so anytime he gets his shot off there's a good chance it's going in.
One of the unteachable attributes Zeller brings to the table is his top-shelf scoring instincts. Zeller is able to recognize when he needs to pump-fake, use a power dribble or go right up. His counter moves on the interior make him unpredictable with the ball in his hands.
Zeller wasn't given the freedom to show it at Indiana, but he's an excellent outside shooter. It's one of those talents that goes hidden in a structured college game.
He shot 75 percent from the foul line in back-to-back years, and if you've ever seen him practice you know he's money in the mid-range.
This jumper is what's going to get Zeller to the next level. If this becomes a weapon the way it has for LaMarcus Aldridge, he's going to be very tough to cover given his ability to attack off the dribble.
One of the major weaknesses that can hold him back in the draft is the minimal pressure he puts on opposing frontcourts as a rebounding presence. He only averaged 6.6 boards as a freshman, and while he's improved that number to 8.1 as a sophomore, he still looks vulnerable anchoring the defensive glass.
Below is an example of his lack of aggressiveness around the rim:
Defensively, Zeller isn't an intimidating force, averaging 1.2 blocks as a freshman and 1.3 as a sophomore. With his size and mobility, a block a game is just inevitable, but defending the post and protecting the rim are two areas where Zeller needs to improve.
Otherwise, it's his overall toughness that seems to generate the most skepticism. We've seen him get bullied by stronger, more physical forwards and centers at the college level. Building strength over the next few years should allow him to bang down low later on in his career.
Draft Stock and NBA Outlook
Who's the best prospect?
Because of Zeller's ability to add a coveted dimension of scoring to an offense, he'll get looks from general managers drafting in positions one through 10.
Since we haven't seen that visible improvement from his freshman to sophomore year, his stock isn't as high as it was a summer ago.
But in a draft with few sure things, Zeller's reliability and high basement won't allow him to slip out of the top echelon. He's just too big, athletic and skilled.
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