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Checklist for Cody Zeller to Prosper with the Charlotte Bobcats

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Checklist for Cody Zeller to Prosper with the Charlotte Bobcats
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Charlotte Bobcats continued the draft day theme of surprising selections when they shook up big boards and selected Indiana’s Cody Zeller at No. 4 in the 2013 NBA draft.

Here is what Bobcats fans thought of the selection:

Not very nice.

For most fans of franchises who have finished 7-59 and 28-66 the past two seasons, draft day is management’s opportunity to restore faith and optimism in the fan base. While Charlotte had success in 2012 with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and in 2011 with Kemba Walker, the Zeller selection likely reminded fans of some of the bigger head-scratching picks the franchise has made in the past.

Emeka Okafor and Adam Morrison are the headliners, and outside of Raymond Felton, Charlotte saw little-to-no production from their other local North Carolina alums in Brandan Wright and Sean May. To be fair, Wright was traded to Golden State for Jason Richardson on draft day.

While Richardson posted solid scoring numbers, including a full season at 21.8 PPG, he only played 96 games for the franchise.

The point is, Charlotte has struggled to get long-term production from their lottery and late-lottery picks, and have become a bottom-tier team because of it. Their draft history upon becoming a franchise in 2004 remains littered with college studs turned NBA-duds.

It is up to Zeller to reverse that trend, and he certainly is capable of doing so.

Charlotte fans were likely most unhappy because two elite rim-protector prospects, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Maryland’s Alex Len, remained on the board at No. 4.

After trailing only the Sacramento Kings within 2012-13 with 102.66 points allowed per contest, a defensive force should have been a priority.

The Bobcats, nonetheless, were not much better on offense. They finished with the fifth-worst scoring total and, in turn, the highest negative point differential in the NBA.

Cody Zeller, though not an elite defensive prospect, is an elite prospect as an athlete with some of the best ball-handling skills for a seven-footer in recent memory.

His skill set will certainly help a team in desperate need of a dominant frontcourt player. 

More important than these skills, however, are Zeller’s abilities as a teammate. Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer reports that Bobcats General Manager Rich Cho “was in Bloomington constantly over the winter, checking out various aspects of Zeller’s makeup.”

Charlotte's GM Rich Cho. (Courtesy of NBA/Getty Images)

Bonnell adds, “Zeller said it was hard not to notice as the season wore on how much Cho was around the Indiana program.” Cho obviously liked what he saw, as it is not often that a player notices a GM continuously following him around.

It seems like Zeller was the best overall player on Charlotte’s big board, and whether the public would agree or not was of no importance to Rich Cho.

With that kind of pressure, Cody Zeller will need to deliver immediate results for the Bobcats if he wants to appease a clearly puzzled fanbase.

Below is a checklist that will allow Zeller to make his teammates, the Bobcats organization and most of all—the fans very happy that Charlotte drafted him.

 

Continue to Develop the Jump Shot

An interesting point of conversation came up in the weeks leading up to the draft surrounding Cody Zeller’s shooting ability.

Jay Bilas had harsh words for critics of Zeller who also support the offensively-inept Noel’s chance to develop on the offensive end. Said Bilas of this double standard on ESPN’s draft day coverage according to USA Today’s Michael Pointer, “in the next breath, we say Cody Zeller took just two 3-point shots in college, he can't shoot and he won't get any better offensively.”

While this statistic of two career three-point attempts is true, Zeller is also firing back at critics who doubt he will be a threat from the outside.

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Cody Zeller is looking to expand his range beyond this point.

A May 16 article by Terry Hutchens of USA Today showed the seven-footer's confidence. “I know I can shoot from the outside,” said Zeller, “And I'm looking forward to showing that to NBA teams when I work out for them individually.”

Normally, a player Zeller’s size would not be expected to be a threat from outside, but in today’s NBA where the stretch 4—a 4 who can spread defenses out with his shooting—is so heavily sought after, it is an important part of his developing game and his ability to pass the test of the NBA.

His lack of NBA-ready strength also plays a role in pundits and analysts wanting to see more range from Zeller, but his new head coach in Charlotte, Steve Clifford, is not concerned.

In a workout where Zeller auditioned for the Bobcats with several other players,  Zeller hit what Rick Bonnell called a “slew of NBA three-pointers” and prompted Clifford to use the phrase “eye-opening” to describe his newest acquisition’s play.

Impressing the head coach early and often is always a smart move.

Zeller’s lack of long-range shooting in college apparently will not affect his ability to score from downtown in the professional ranks.

 

Use His Athleticism to Compete with Bigger Bigs

 The other major question with Zeller, and with most incoming big men prospects for that matter, was how will he finish at the rim over bigger players at the 4 and 5 positions in the NBA.

Cody always had the height NBA scouts look for, but there were questions about his length.

Zeller answered that with arguably the best performance at the NBA Combine despite not even participating in any activities involving a basketball.

His wingspan measured in a quarter-of-an-inch under 6'11'', much higher than the 6'8'' length Chris Mannix mentions in the above write-up.

Furthermore, his 34.5 inch standing vertical leap will allow him to at least contest opponents as they attack the rim. His willingness to answer questions about his weaknesses, as seen through the three-point clinic he put on in the draft workout Clifford attended, may lead him to work on his shot-blocking as well.

As Aran Smith of NBAdraft.net notes in Zeller’s player profile, the Indiana product is “not a shot blocker or much of a presence on the defensive end.” While this may be true, the same profile calls him a “solid defender” who “stays between his man and the basket and does not gamble or bite on fakes easily.”

With good positioning and his vertical leap, there should be little doubts that Zeller can become a defensive player who, at the very least, outscores his matchup on a nightly basis.

 

Make Your New Teammates Better

 Before the start of the 2012-13 season, Zeller was the favorite to solidify himself as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Like any player who decides to return to school, constant media analysis and another year of public scrutiny managed to hurt Zeller’s draft stock. Jay Bilas was quoted in the aforementioned Michael Pointer article stating “the vast improvement by [Victor] Oladipo this past season hurt the perception of Zeller as a future pro,” and subsequently, his status as the consensus No. 1 overall pick.

This is one of those strange scenarios where it is hard to tell whether Oladipo was successful because of his own talents, or because teams were paying more attention to Zeller.

Or the strangest way of thinking, but the one most evident by the draft results, is that Oladipo’s backcourt skill allowed for Zeller to excel in the first place.

Time will have to decide which was true, but ultimately, Zeller must be given a great deal of credit for Oladipo’s ascension as well as the play of other Hoosiers like Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls.

Due to his ball-handling skills and the threat he poses when driving inside, Zeller is a player that constantly needs to be accounted for by opposing teams.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
There will be more room for celebrating for MKG now that Zeller is in town.

If he is able to step in to the stretch 4 role, he should be opening up driving lanes for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker as they continue their quest to become dynamic NBA scorers.

If he is able to become a factor scoring down low, he could also open up looks for Gerald Henderson and others on the outside. His ability to dribble could even land him in a role where he brings the ball up the court and allows Charlotte’s other offensive threats to give teams different looks.

Ultimately, whatever role Zeller and the Bobcats organization find him most capable of producing from, he should emerge as the focal point of the Bobcats attack by his second season in Charlotte.

For now, he will team with a roster in Charlotte that, despite a lot of recent failure, looks to be on its way up on the heels of the dynamic abilities Cody Zeller brings to the table.

We will see if Charlotte fans will still be up-in-arms with their 2013 pick come the first month of the 2013-14 season.

As of now, only one fan at that Charlotte draft party can say he has been on the Zeller bandwagon from the start.

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