Oladipo, Zeller navigating different paths in rookie seasons

  • 12/12/2013 11:11 am in

A quarter of the way through their first NBA seasons, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo have been thrust into very different roles.

In Orlando, the Magic, in the midst of a major rebuilding effort, are taking their lumps on their way to a 7-15 start. Oladipo was inserted into the team’s starting lineup after 10 games and he’s averaging 13.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.7 steals in 31 minutes per game.

In Charlotte, which signed free agent Al Jefferson in the offseason and currently sits in fifth place in a very weak Eastern conference outside of Indiana and Miami, the Bobcats are taking a more conservative approach with Zeller. The 7-footer is Charlotte’s first big man off the bench and is averaging 5.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game behind veteran Josh McRoberts.

Given the very different paths the former Hoosier teammates took to make it into last June’s NBA draft lottery, it’s only fitting that each is taking a different path to becoming established in the league.

On Wednesday night, the two squared off for the first time as professionals with Oladipo’s Magic claiming a 92-83 victory in Charlotte.

Both played well, with Oladipo scoring eight of his 10 points in the second half and Zeller matching his season-high with 10 points and also adding six rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.

An off day for both teams on Tuesday allowed the two to catch up, compare notes on their rookie seasons and also reminisce on their careers at IU.

“It was fun catching up with him, comparing stories of our rookie years and remembering playing back in Indiana. It was definitely fun playing with him the last few years,” Zeller said of Oladipo, according to NBA.com, on Wednesday. “He was a great teammate, brought a lot of energy to the table. So I definitely miss playing with him.”

“He’s hard working. He definitely wants to be great,” Oladipo said of Zeller. “He wants to be good at what he does so he just wants that opportunity. He just wants to go out there and play hard and he wants to win. He loves winning.”

One of the early candidates for the NBA’s rookie of the year award, Oladipo has already recorded a triple-double and is routinely matching up with some of the best backcourt players in the league.

Guarding the opposition’s best player is a challenge Oladipo always wanted while he was in Bloomington and it’s continued in his rookie season.

“It’s always nice to see him getting credit on a national level inside these games for what he’s doing energy wise, for what he’s doing defensively,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said of Oladipo at Monday’s media availability. “You turn on the sets and there he is guarding the other team’s best player. Kudos to them (the Magic) for knowing that he wants that challenge. I think he’s doing excellent.”

Zeller’s role is much different than Oladipo’s and he told reporters on Wednesday that he’s trying to focus most on the small details in order to make an impact.

“With the 24-second shot clock and how talented the players are, if you make one little mistake, they’re going to score on you,” he said. “Or on the offensive end, it’s going to be a turnover. There’s no much room for mistakes so it’s a big learning process.”

Crean, who has kept a close eye on the rookie campaigns of both players, believes Zeller is doing well in meeting the challenge of competing against the world’s best players.

“Cody’s just got to continue to be very comfortable, know that he’s skilled, be decisive,” Crean said. “He’s being thrust into tough situations. He’s going against not just grown men, but high level, strength, athleticism, NBA-level grown men. And that’s a different deal. But I think he’s handling that just fine, too.”

On Friday, Zeller will return to Indiana to play the Pacers for the first time in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Oladipo opened his NBA career in Indianapolis in late October and received a steady show of support from Indiana fans who wore Indiana jerseys.

“We go to Indiana on Friday and I was talking to Vic about when he was in Indiana,” Zeller said. “It’s unbelievable (the support). Indiana fans are definitely everywhere.”

“I told him I got a standing ‘o’ when I got there, so I told him to see if he tops that,” Oladipo said with a smile. “It’ll be interesting to see.”

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  • unclekerfuffle

    Proud to be a Hoosier!

    These two are just the most recent in a long line that reaches back before many of us (even us old guys) were born and will stretch into the future long after we are gone.

    Thanks for the memories, Vic and Cody.

  • AZIU71

    Oladipo and Zeller two lifetime ambassadors for Indiana Hoosier basketball.

  • Zeller will be productive in 2-3 yrs. Always takes big men a bit longer to acclimate to this level. Victor is special and he is just the chemistry a team needs to succeed. His motor is always running at 6000rpms. His skill set continues to improve and you can’t help but enjoy watching him. Love their games.

  • MillaRed

    It’s common knowledge that Charlotte is an absolutely clueless franchise. I was sad to hear Cody heading there. Looking forward to him moving on.

    “Hey, I am a multimillionaire GM, let’s play McRoberts and stunt Cody’s growth!”

    Complete Morons.

  • William Hagenmaier

    They make us proud. I was very selfish wanting them to stay at Iu

  • DRT

    They were probably afraid McRoberts would start crying if they didn’t let him start.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    I’m proud of these guys! They are quality young men in every aspect of their lives. As far as coming out, I felt all along that VO was ready and I didn’t feel that CZ was ready.
    In hind site, from a draft position standpoint, they both made the right choice for sure. However, from a maturing as a player standpoint, I think one year next to NV would have been invaluable for CZ. He would have had a legit big to play with and could have expanded his outside and midrange game before playing in the NBA.
    I wish them both the best and thank you for bringing IU back!

  • E Foy McNaughton

    McRoberts over Zeller is a head scratcher only to be explained by the fact that he plays in Charlotte. I watched a NBA show (don’t remember who said it or when), but the commentary was basically that there is a reason that the Eastern Conference sucks. They have terrible management that repeatedly blunders. Case in point, the #1 pick at Cleveland. There is a team that CZ could be helping today, more so than Bryant and for way less $$. Just saying, I’m looking forward to CZ’s second contract at a good team.

  • Miamihoosier

    Carter-Williams has been rookie of the year so far, but Vic is definitely gaining ground. Vic’s jumper is the only thing holding him back from being an All-Star. Kind of a big thing, but it’s something he has already proven he can improve. Cleveland should have taken Oladipo. Zeller could be in worse shape. He should play his way past McRoberts and Bismack Wasteofapick after the all star break. Charlotte is headed for a top 5 pick in an awesome draft. Kemba, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Zeller, paired with a Jabari Parker for instance, will form a good core going forward.

  • It’s no certainty that Charlotte will even be in the lottery, IMO. They’ve got a solid coach in Steve Clifford and the east is weak enough to where they could get into the playoffs in the seventh or eighth spot. Of course, getting there would be foolish considering you’re giving up a potentially great draft pick for the opportunity to be swept by Indiana or Miami, but someone in the east has to make the playoffs.

  • doodle777

    Unrelated question here, Can a person show up at the crossroads classic and buy tickets pretty cheap out front? second question If you buy tickets can you leave after Indiana plays and sell ticket to someone wanting to watch Purdue/Butler???

  • Not sure what the market will be like, but the answer to question No. 2 is no.

  • DRT

    I think it’s sold out. I was on a wait list for a couple of months and just got mine. Unless you mean scalping them. Then yes you could probably do that. Don’t know how cheap they will be though…

  • Miamihoosier

    Yeah, I guess as of today they have the 4th best record in the conference, so….point taken. But I gotta believe with Deron Williams back, New Jersey has got to turn it on pretty soon, and with 60 games left, I’d still give the edge to the Knicks and Cavs to pass Charlotte, and send them to the lottery. It’s sad how bad the East is. Golden State would win 60 in this conference.

  • Miamihoosier

    Alex, completely off topic, and not your specialty I know, but have you heard anything about how much longer before Doug Mallory gets fired? He makes Bill Lynch look like Nick Saban….is there a minimum amount of years he would need to be at IU to qualify for worse performing coach of anything at any sport in school history?…..sorry, just was on the Rivals site, saw something about the football team, and got mad again.

  • Snookafly

    I have been to sports events all over the country and you can almost assuredly get tickets out front before any game, and that includes the Super Bowl. I went to the Crossroads Classic two years ago and there were definitely people selling tickets. I will say that although it may be sold out through the front office, you should check online at various sites. Two days ago there were still pairs of tickets with a face value of $70 selling for $11-$12 (an abundance of similar deals).

  • Snookafly

    I wonder if Zeller regrets leaving early just to sit on the bench.

  • TheDirtyHoos

    While it’s a shame that he isn’t getting much playing time, that will change. I think he made the right choice to declare for the draft last year, he went high, probably a good deal higher than he would have this year, and that means he got a lot more money. It was the right move on his part. There’s not a doubt that his PT will increase.

  • Rhonda3107

    Trust me, I am a devoted IU fan. However, starting Josh over Cody is smart on the Bobcat’s side. Josh can shoot the 3 ball/spread the court better and is a veteran on that starting lineup, One thing is true though….Cody won’t be sitting for long.

  • esapata

    Yeah, McRoberts has few more tools right now, and his experience brings something that Cody doesn’t have yet. Charlotte is in a greater rush to win right now than Orlando. Cody’s opportunity will come.

  • sarge

    I totally agree. I love Cody and believe he has the skills to be good in the nba, but mcroberts passes and shoots better. In the nba with the majority of half-court sets being post-up, isolation and pick and roll those skills are imperative. Esapata is right about charlotte needing to win now, which is why mcroberts sees more pt. In another year or two he will be getting his chance, at charlotte or somewhere else. But don’t be down on charlotte, they made CZ a wealthy rook.

  • sarge

    I agree, but not every team in the east can tank for the draft either, even though the team records will say otherwise.

  • sarge

    Well he is making a couple million a year, and is the first big off the bench on a playoff-bound team so I gotta say no.

  • Outoftheloop

    Very good article on two great young men that Hoosier fans love! GO Victor! GO Cody!

  • Outoftheloop

    Everybody in the league had to go through a “Rookie” year and only one comes out “Rookie Of The Year”!

  • Outoftheloop

    Josh McRoberts is an OK back-up in the NBA. But he has never been a top 7 rotation player for any team except Charlotte. It is OK to bring a top Rookie Big along slowly, but to stunt his career to improve your position for next year’s draft is totally unethical. Oh, this is the NBA, so the word “ethics” is never used.

  • MillaRed

    Ehh, not a McRoberts fan. He’s soft. Guys like him bounce around because you can’t count on any consistency.

    If Cody gets starters minutes they are getting 11, 9, and 2 out of a rookie center.

    Maybe they are thrilled to be 3rd in the conf and having delusions of playoff glory? They are 10-12, soon to be 35-47…..again……at best.

    Give Cody the ball! Holding the kid back.

  • Snookafly

    Easy there, “playoff-bound team” is a little misleading. They’ll probably get in because the East is terrible and over half the conference “makes it.” They don’t even have a winning record, and no one thinks they’ll make it out of the first round. I’d rather win a title in college than come in dead last in the playoffs. Besides, I’d have to think the millions were gonna be there either way.

  • Snookafly

    Oh, I’m not saying he’s underperforming. I know guys have to develop, but with big men his age that development is largely physical. He’d be having the same physical maturation in college as he would anywhere else, except he would be playing and winning.

  • sarge

    It is what it is… They ARE playoff bound in the east unless someone gets injured. And as we saw with memphis last year, you can make your mark as long as you make the playoffs. Besides, if CZ gets injured at IU, he probably never gets his draft stock higher than it was last year and its debatable if it would be any higher in any other draft class if he stays healthy (last year being a below average class). Every basketball player wants to eventually make playing the game their job, and CZ made a good choice to do so.