A new role awaits Cody Zeller at next level

  • 06/27/2013 8:01 am in

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Cody Zeller came to Indiana with impossible expectations.

And so maybe there’s some freedom and change on the horizon as he makes the leap to the next level.

He’s no longer the program savior taking the Hoosiers back to the promised land. Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine won’t be asking him to grace their covers this season. The golden boy glamour fades, and he simply becomes another young kid trying to establish himself during the grueling slog of an 82-game NBA season — arriving in cities he’s never visited in the middle of cold winter nights.

His relative anonymity may also lead to a basketball re-invention.

Tom Crean asked Zeller to do what was best for the team in the halfcourt — use his height and athleticism to either score or draw fouls and go to the line. It was a role, for the most part, he excelled at. The 2012-13 Hoosiers had plenty of perimeter shooters in an offense that led the nation in efficiency for most of the season; Zeller’s offense outside of the post simply wasn’t needed. But the Washington native’s back-to-the-basket game wasn’t always smooth. It’s unlikely his best path to offensive success in the league, especially against bigger and better talent. (Though that’s not to say he can’t get buckets at the rim. He’ll just need to pick his spots.)

So Zeller may have to look elsewhere to bring offensive value in the NBA. He can use his quickness in a face-up game when the matchup calls for it. (If he lands at No. 10 to Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge would be a great mentor to show him the ropes here.) But it’s perhaps more likely that his jumper that never really saw the light of day in Bloomington will be most essential for Zeller if he wants to become a consistent starter or rotation player.

The Modern NBA is pick-and-roll heavy; Zeller might find 15-18 footer opportunities as a pick and pop roll man. And in a league that values proper halfcourt spacing to keep defenses moving, his ability to hit jumpers would draw the opponent’s rim protector away from the basket. If he finds himself on a team that likes to run? His transition scoring may continue at the next level as well.

While he’s not an intimidating rim protector himself, his quickness, smarts and size — despite an average wingspan — could serve him well in the right defensive system on the other side of the pick-and-roll. Zeller has the ability to stop a guard and recover back to his man.

The 7-footer was once in the mix for the No. 1 spot in this draft, but a sophomore season exposed some weak spots as far as an NBA package is concerned. He will have to work for it against the greatest players in the world if he wants to matter. It’ll help if he gets on the right team — one with a system that works with his game, has good teammates and where he’s offered proper opportunity.

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  • SCHoosier

    Good read and analysis of Cody’s potential in the NBA. Loved the third paragraph which sort of sums up the Zeller saga. However…that para should have ended with a few more words to be accurate” ” “arriving in cities he’s never visited in the middle of cold winter nights WITH A LOT OF MONEY IN HIS POCKET” 🙂

  • Caleb Moore

    Good luck to Cody and hope he lands in a nice spot for him tonight. I think he can play inside more than most other people. He just needs to tweak how he carries the ball when he gets it in the post and increase his strength and weight to be able to back guys down. Just feels strange to see a 7 footer described as needing to pick his spots around the rim. If I draft a 7 footer in the top 10 he better be ready to catch the ball in post and score it. And not in spots.

  • kewaynes

    Even ho it’s a lower pick, I really hope Zeller goes to the Thunder.
    That being said, he’s gonna have to get an edginess to his game that he didn’t have in college if he is gonna make it in the pros.

  • plane1972

    I live in OKC and the Thunder beat writer in town is reporting they may make a bold move to move up to get Alex Len. Since Sam Presti never shows his cards, so you have to take this as pure speculation. But isn’t that what draft day is all about?

  • AJ_IU_ColtsFan

    I’m just hoping that he got scouted properly by interested franchises (yeah, you’d think with millions on the line that this wouldn’t be an issue… but draft busts prove that it is). If some team drafts him to be a true low-post guy, they won’t be using him optimally. But if they get him in order to contribute to a transition game, or to be a compliment to a true low post guy by driving from the high post and playing a face-up shooting game inside, then he can excel. It’s all about where he goes and how they try to fit him in.

  • Gregory Spera

    I know some of us tend to focus on Cody’s last game as a Hoosier (myself included.) But, the positive impact he had on this program can not be underestimated. He is a premium athlete and person. Hope he lands somewhere his game can grow and flourish.

  • IUMIKE1

    Yep, that’s gotta make arriving in bitterly cold weather, late of night, in an unfamiliar city a WHOOOLLLEE, lot more bearable. Plus with as much AAU & All Star action that he seen there probably aren’t a whole lot of cities that he hasn’t been to somewhere along the way. I’m sure it will still get to be a long grinding season for him, but as a rookie, The Big Handsome can probably cope better, and is better prepared to cope with those kind of things, than most.

    Thanks for everything you did for IU and IU bball Cody !