Cody Zeller is about to enter his seventh season with the Charlotte Hornets organization, and he only just recently turned 27, but will he fit in with Charlotte’s new youth movement?
I think the initial answer for many would be no, and some may even favor Willy Hernangomez over Zeller at this point, but I still believe that Zeller has been underrated for his on the court play. If you want to make the argument about him being too injury-prone to be able to be relied upon, then yes I’d agree as he’s missed 82 games in the past two seasons. However, if we want to be optimistic and say he’ll play 70 or so games this season, then I think he can still add a lot to the team.
Zeller’s best trait that he has is his ability to set and execute screens. His sample size was a little smaller than most other guys I’m sure, but last season he was second in the league with 5.4 screen assists a game, which also put him at second in the league in screen-assist scoring with 12.6. His 49 games were still enough to qualify for the leaderboards, and the only guy Zeller was behind in both categories was Rudy Gobert, so no shame in that.
I’d probably expect those numbers to dip a little this season, screens involve a guy handling the ball as well, and Kemba Walker was one of the best. That’s not to say Zeller and Terry Rozier, or Zeller and whoever else that may be won’t be able to execute, it’s just that none of those guys are Kemba.
Aside from his value in the screen game, Zeller actually posted some pretty good stats all across the board last season. He averaged over 10 PPG (10.1) for just the second time in his career, and he posted a career high in RPG with 6.8. One of my biggest criticism’s of Cody was that he wasn’t particularly imposing on the boards for a big man, so this is promising to see when you consider the Hornets may be playing a lot of small ball this upcoming season where he will be the “five” and the other four guys are all guards or wings.
Looking at his advanced stats, he had another solid year in that regard as well. The most notable thing I noticed from them is that for the first time in his time in his career, Zeller was a positive in OBPM (0.2). He’s always been a positive defensively, and while 0.2 on the offensive end doesn’t seem like much, it does show progress. I don’t ever really see Cody being a force scoring the ball, but he has improved his free throw shooting and extended his range, even if just a little bit. It sounds cliche, but he makes a lot of hustle plays and I think can fit right in with our younger guys this season.
He’s not going to be the type of guy that will complain about his lack of touches, but will still find a way to produce in some shape or form each game.
I think Zeller, similarly to several other Hornets players, have fallen victim to where they were drafted. Had he been a late first round selection to add as a piece on a good team, he’d be celebrated as a great role player. However, that’s not the case. He was selected 4th overall, but at this point we need to try to look past that and accept the fact that while he will never be near an All-Star, he’s still a solid starting center that doesn’t have too many glaring weaknesses to his game.
Especially since the Hornets have so many young players, you have to look at it like this:
Would you rather have Cody Zeller, or a guy like Dwight Howard who, in a vacuum, will score the ball more and grab more boards, but how much is he really going to help a guy like Terry Rozier grow as a shooter out of PnR? Or help a guy like Dwayne Bacon develop into a better passer?
If he can stay healthy, I strongly believe Cody Zeller will be one of the most valuable Hornets players this season.