NBA Draft Capsule: PF Cody Zeller

NBA Draft Capsule: PF Cody Zeller

June 19, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Cody Zeller, 6-foot-11 power forward, Indiana: Coming off a freshman year in which he was considered a top-10 pick if he had declared for the draft, when Zeller opted to return to school, he was expected to be a dominant force, as well as the consensus No. 1 overall selection this June. Things didn't go quite the way many observers predicted, as he was somewhat overshadowed by teammate Victor Oladipo, and while Indiana had a successful overall season, he was criticized for perceived flaws, such as a seeming inability to deal with physical play and a lack of offensive versatility. The backlash against him was proven to be perhaps a bit overblown since then, with Zeller performing above expectations in the pre-draft process, showcasing outstanding athleticism and a mid-range jumper that wasn't displayed in college.

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Career highlights: The last of three McDonald's All-American brothers -- including Cleveland Cavaliers rookie big man Tyler, a North Carolina product -- Zeller led Indiana's resurgence with a dominant debut campaign. He won Big Ten Freshman of the Year and second-team all-league honors, leading the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding and the conference in field-goal percentage, behind consistent performances throughout the season, culminating with a 20-point, seven-rebound effort in a matchup with No. 1 overall selection Anthony Davis in the season finale, a loss to eventual champion Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. While Zeller's scoring and rebounding numbers improved as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game on a balanced squad, he struggled periodically, though he did garner first-team all-league status and was named to various All-American teams before again losing in the Sweet 16.

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Strengths: Like the aforementioned Tyler, the best aspect of his game is his ability to run the floor for easy opportunities in transition. Zeller is a fluid athlete with decent ball skills, who should be able to occasionally beat slower big men off the dribble in the professional ranks. While he's not a formidable physical presence, his ability to rebound on both ends of the floor, provided he continues to add some bulk to his frame without losing agility, will be important on the next level.

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Weaknesses: Zeller is a polarizing figure among some NBA evaluators and much of that is due to the fact that he struggled on both ends against long, physical and explosive players, regardless of size, which doesn't bode well for his pro prospects. A lack of offensive diversity, a short wingspan and a still-developing physique are the main causes, and while some of that can be addressed, Zeller has gained a reputation for not playing up to his potential in big situations, even playing second fiddle to Oladipo, who entered the season with a much lower profile. Unlike brothers Tyler and Luke, who played at Notre Dame and had a brief stint with the Phoenix Suns, he has not thus far demonstrated an ability to stretch defenses with his shooting range, although he has sought to change the perception of his game and model himself as a face-up power forward, rather than a traditional back-to-the-basket post player.

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Draft projection: After seeing his stock drop during the course of the college season, Zeller has been creeping back up the draft boards as of late and should be a late-lottery pick, with a chance to crack the top 10 selections, partially due to the lack of polished big men available. Although his upside isn't seen as unlimited, if he can effectively develop as a shooter, a productive future as an athletic, face-up power forward should be in the cards. Zeller will never be a bruising type in the paint, but if he can hold his own defensively, he can be a quality long-term starter, if not a star, especially if paired with a defensive-minded, physical post player and a point guard who excels at pushing the ball on the break.