NBA Rookie Projections: Cody Zeller

Jun 28, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats first round draft pick Cody Zeller (middle), general manager Rich Cho (left), and president of basketball operations Rod Higgins (right) hold up jersey during the introduction press conference at Time Warner Arena. Mandatory Credit: Curtis Wilson-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Charlotte Bobcats

Position: Power Forward

Role: Starting Forward

Analysis: Let’s list Charlotte’s power forwards over the past three years; Bismack Biyombo, Josh McRoberts, D.J. White, Hakim Warrick, Tyrus Thomas, Eduardo Najera and Dante Cunningham. It goes without saying, Cody Zeller is a whopping upgrade, at a position where spacing is needed to survive offensively in today’s NBA.

Zeller is a super athletic power forward, who can run the floor, post-up or face-up to the basket. Barring injuries, expect him to be the starting power forward come opening night.

By far his finest asset, is his ability to run the floor and finish in transition. Zeller made a living at Indiana off of rim runs and darting past defenders in transition. He has great hands for a seven-footer and is capable of taking a dribble to gather himself, and finish at the rim. There’s an excess of seven-footers who can’t post-up without traveling, move their feet as if they’re dragging weights and have hands the equivalent of Bismack Biyombo(Sorry). Zeller is already more valuable than most rotational big men, even if he hasn’t played a single minute of NBA basketball yet. The Bobcats ranked 22nd in transition scoring, and shot 52% in that situation, per synergy. Needless to say, Zeller assists Charlotte’s transition scoring needs.

As a team, Charlotte was horrible offensively — finishing 28th in points per possession, 27th in three-point percentage, and dead last in field goal, effective field goal and true shooting percentage last season. Yikes. To sum it up, the Bobcats couldn’t shoot inside the three-point line or outside of it. Drafting Zeller doesn’t drastically enhance Charlotte’s offensive woes, but it helps and provides third year guard, Kemba Walker, an appealing option to pass to, in pick-and-roll situations or on post-ups. And perhaps, this opens up passing and dribbling lanes to free up other players on the floor.

Zeller averaged 1.29 points per possession as a pick-and-roll man, in his last season as a Hoosier. Charlotte ranked 28th in scoring using the pick man, per synergy. Zeller is an immediate upgrade in the pick-and-roll, where he’s capable of catching the ball and making a wise decision, whether that decision is to shoot a jumpshot, take one dribble and score, or pass to an open Bobcat or Hornet in the 2014-2015 season. The Kemba-Zeller pick-and-roll could gain a lot of steam, and conceivably boosting their scoring per possession somewhat closer to league-average.

Even if Zeller lives up to his offensive arsenal, like most rookies, Zeller will need to learn the complexities of an NBA defense if he wants to play a lot of minutes.

Nonetheless, Zeller will play many minutes due to the fact that there’s no one on Charlotte’s front-court that provides nearly the same offensive value.

Statistical Prediction: 11.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 49% FG