NBA Draft 2013: Grading Cody Zeller and Top Power Forward Prospects
Like many prospects that stand between 6'9" and 6'11", Indiana's Cody Zeller could possibly play power forward or center in the NBA.
Oftentimes, the choice of position is determined by the current frontcourt the team that drafts the prospect has in place, or how well the prospect can defend players at each position.
Pre-draft, we don't know who the prospects will play for, so much of the positional forecasting will be based on the latter.
Zeller is not frail, but his frame seems best suited for guarding the 4-position than the center. Obviously, he'll have nights where he faces a team that has a dominant post presence at power forward. In today's NBA, there are more power forwards that play face-up games.
As players that I've classified as power forwards go, Zeller is the top prospect at the position. I previously graded the top small forwards and placed Anthony Bennett in that same category.
Of the players that could be considered power forwards, Bennett is the only one that could possibly challenge Zeller for the top spot.
Here is a breakdown of Zeller's game:
Shooting - B
Zeller doesn't take many bad shots. He has a soft touch within seven-to-10 feet, and rarely takes shots from deeper range.
It is easy to see him becoming even more consistent as a mid-range shooter as his career progresses, though. He displays solid form in shooting his free throws. Effectiveness from 15 feet is likely about obtaining confidence in that part of his game.
He'll need this as a weapon to reach his full pro potential, and I have little doubt that he'll develop in that area.
As of now, there is no indication that Zeller will develop three-point range. He's only taken two in his two years at Indiana. He doesn't need this wrinkle—especially this early in his career. He can and will be an effective scorer with the tools he has.
One of the best aspects of Zeller's scoring potential is his ability to make foul shots.
As a post player, he'll get opportunities to score from the line, and he has proven he will convert. Zeller is a 75 percent shooter from the stripe, and that is a welcome sight for a team in crunch time.
Passing - C
As a passer, Zeller has decent vision out of the post. At times, he holds the ball too long without making a move.
He genuinely does recognize cutters, but like most young players, this is an area where he could stand to improve. He is averaging a mildly respectable 1.2 assists per game.
Ball Handling - C
Zeller is a good athlete that shows the ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. He has a nice mix of spin moves and drop-steps off the drive.
He is turning the ball over 1.8 times per game, which puts his assist-to-turnover ratio under one.
This is a number that Zeller can improve with experience, and a jump shot that won't have him so dependent on driving to the rim on almost every possession.
Defense and Physical Attributes
Size - A-
He is close to seven feet, so the length is there in that respect, but his wing span is only 6'8".
That won't be quite as big of a deal because he has the requisite height, but it prevents him from being a better shot-blocker and makes defending his shots a little easier for smaller players.
He has gained some weight since his freshman season, but he's still on the thin side for a post position in the NBA.
Zeller needs to gain some muscle to be at his best on the block.
Athleticism - A-
You aren't going to find many big men that run the floor better than Zeller. He busts it up the floor to create transition opportunities for his guards, where there would normally be none.
He is active around the basket, and he has no problems finishing strong within dunking range.
His athleticism also helps him as a pick-and-roll defender, which is very important on the NBA level.
Defending - B
Zeller is a willing defender, even when his physical shortcomings fail him.
He gives great effort to hold his ground (though he fails against thick, physical players), and he does his best to protect the rim. He's averaged 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per game this season.
Once he gets stronger, he'll be an even better defensive player.
Mental Aspect and Potential
Intangibles - A+
Zeller comes from a basketball family. His brother Tyler is a rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and another brother Luke is playing for the Phoenix Suns.
He understands the game, and has been coached well by Tom Crean at Indiana. He shows great effort, passion and the desire to improve.
Zeller comes from a winning program that has a chance to win a national championship this season. It would be hard to find a prospect that is seemingly more set up for success.
Upside - A
Because of his athleticism, intangibles and offensive production without even developing his jump shot, Zeller has room for growth.
His short arms prevent me from going higher here, but at 20 years old, he has an exciting future.
Immediate Impact - B+
Zeller could be productive for an NBA team from day one. He runs the floor, has the length and the fundamentals required to make an impact.
He'd probably start at power forward for most of the teams within range of the top five picks of the NBA Draft.
He may not be a Rookie of the Year candidate over Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett or Shabazz Muhammad, but I'd expect to see him on the All-Rookie Team with those prospects.
NBA Comparison - Right-Handed David Lee
Lee is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He produces nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, and gets passed over for All-Star consideration year after year.
In the last four seasons, Lee is averaging 18.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
Though he's a lefty, he and Zeller have some similarities to their game. Both are athletic and can put the ball on the floor well. That package of skills is augmented by their size, though Zeller is a little taller.
Lee's jump shot is at a level where Zeller hopes he can one day get his, but the potential to be a Lee-like player is there.
Which player will have the better career?
Overall Grade: B+
The Other Top Power Forward Prospects
As far as players whose best position would be power forward in the NBA, not many of them project as first-round locks. But here are a few.
Mason Plumlee, Duke - B-
I love Plumlee's sick athleticism. He has disrespectful hops and audaciousness around the basket. If you watch him, you see he doesn't care who is around him; he'll try to finish with power in just about any situation.
This quality makes him a blast to watch.
He was good last season, but this year he has raised his game on every level. Plumlee is averaging career highs in every major statistical category.
That said, I gave him a B- because he doesn't put the ball on the floor exceptionally well, and he doesn't have a great shooting touch.
His 2.9 turnovers per game are also worrisome.
NBA Comparison - Derrick Favors
Isaiah Austin, Baylor - B-
I rate Austin as high as a B- simply based on his potential, but it would be a major mistake for him to leave Baylor at this stage of his development.
He is a legit seven-footer, but he's also super thin. There is no way he has the strength to do anything special in the NBA right now.
Austin is headed for the D-League in his rookie season if he declares for the draft. I'm not entirely sure of his financial situation, so that could trump things. While this is understandable, his game would benefit greatly from at least one more year of college.
That said, he is a solid athlete with legitimate three-point range and good shooting touch from almost anywhere on the floor. In the NBA, and at his current weight—which is barely over 200 pounds—the best he could be is a spot-up shooter.
If and when he fills out, he could be a 15-to-17 point-a-night stretch power forward that is a nightly matchup problem.
NBA Comparison - Jonathan Bender meets Charlie Villanueva
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