Indiana Basketball: Ranking the 5 Best NBA Fits for Cody Zeller
Once considered to be a potential No. 1 overall selection, former Indiana Hoosiers’ big man Cody Zeller has seen his NBA draft stock take a bit of a tumble.
Zeller returned to Indiana for his sophomore season where he helped the Hoosiers win the program’s first outright Big Ten title since 1993, but some weaknesses in his game were exposed.
Scouts claim that Zeller doesn't have the strength or length to be a true NBA center. And while he certainly has outstanding athleticism for a seven-footer, Zeller often played smaller than his size at Indiana and struggled finishing at the rim when facing lengthy, athletic defenders.
But many of Zeller's flaws are ones that can be corrected. And he still possesses a rare skill set that could allow him to flourish in the pros: He runs the floor like a guard, has the ability to face up and blow by big men off the dribble and should be able to knock down the mid-range jump shot consistently at the next level.
But how successful Zeller becomes in the NBA may be contingent on which top-15 team presumably calls his name Thursday night.
Let’s examine which five teams would be the best fits.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (11th Pick)
If Cody Zeller slips out of the top ten, the 76ers would be first in line to snag him. And it wouldn't be a bad fit.
Andrew Bynum, who missed the entire 2013 season with a knee injury, will be a free agent, and current starting center Spencer Hawes is replaceable.
If Zeller is still on the board, he’ll likely be the highest-rated big man available. Chances are, the 76ers would seriously consider making him the pick.
Unlike the other teams on our list, though, Zeller would probably be required to start at center in Philadelphia. Power forward Thaddeus Young was solid last season and is too small for a move to the 5.
Zeller’s ceiling may be the highest at power forward, but he certainly has the height to play center if he continues to bulk up and develops a little more toughness.
4. Orlando Magic (Second Pick)
The Orlando Magic are a long way from being any good, but they could look to use the No. 2 overall pick on Cody Zeller to shore up their frontcourt.
Magic center Nikola Vucevic quietly had an impressive season in 2013 and is on his way to becoming one of the better young centers in the league. An offensive weapon like Cody Zeller at power forward would complement Vucevic’s skill set nicely.
Zeller going this high is a long shot. In an increasingly guard-oriented league, the Magic are more likely to use this pick on someone like Trey Burke, Ben McLemore or even Zeller's college teammate Victor Oladipo.
Just don't rule it out. ESPN's Andy Katz tabbed Zeller as the dark horse to be the Magic's first pick.
3. Sacramento Kings (Seventh Pick)
Despite a 28-54 record this season, the Sacramento Kings may not be as far away from competing for a playoff spot as you think.
DeMarcus Cousins is arguably a top-ten center, and the backcourt is solid with Isaiah Thomas at point and Tyreke Evans at the 2-guard.
Upgrading either forward position could lead to a much-improved Kings team in 2014. A Cody Zeller-DeMarcus Cousins pairing would have the potential to become one of the league’s top big-man tandems and could help the Kings sneak into the playoffs next season.
That is, if they don’t eventually trade Cousins, who is rumored to be seeking a contract extension. Either way, expect the Kings to consider Zeller if he’s still around when they're on the clock.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (10th Pick)
LaMarcus Aldridge was the league’s highest scoring big man in 2012-13. Damian Lillard appears on the cusp of becoming one of the top point guards in basketball after winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award this past season.
The future looks bright in Portland for the first time in years.
Another offensively skilled big man like Cody Zeller could help the Trail Blazers get over the hump and into the playoffs by equipping them with quite possibly the most statistically prolific frontcourt in the entire league.
Some consider pick No. 10 to be Zeller’s floor, as many mock drafts have Portland pouncing on the former Hoosier if he’s on the board.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (12th Pick)
Falling all the way to the No. 12 overall pick might not be the best-case scenario in Zeller’s mind, but it’s hard to pinpoint a better fit.
The Oklahoma City Thunder desperately need more offensive production from their frontcourt. Center Kendrick Perkins had a disappointing 2013 campaign, and the Thunder should look to replace him this offseason.
Power forward Serge Ibaka is the cornerstone of the Thunder's defense, but he’s limited offensively. Ibaka can move over to center where he’ll block shots and clean the glass, paving the way for Zeller to play the 4.
An improved frontcourt and the return of Russell Westbrook would make the Thunder the favorites in the West and the biggest threat to the Miami Heat’s three-peat chances.
Slipping out of the top ten would likely be a disappointment to Zeller, a player who was once considered an elite NBA prospect.
But joining an instant title contender wouldn't be so bad.