Draft Projection: No. 10: Portland Trail Blazers
Notes: Insider Only
Positives: Insider Only
Negatives: Insider Only
Summary: June 26 Update: Zeller started the season in our top five, but slid as NBA scouts began to worry about how his game translated to the next level. What Zeller brings is athleticism, a high basketball IQ and skills. If he can transition into a legit stretch 4, we ranked him too low.
Quick fact: Zeller shot 79.6 percent in transition, second highest in the nation.
June 25 Update: Zeller is the fourth constant on this mock. He's appeared at this spot on all six versions. Why? The 76ers need size and athleticism in their frontcourt and Zeller provides both. I'm told Sergey Karasev, Kelly Olynyk and Mason Plumlee are options here, but probably only if Zeller is off the board.
June 24 Update: Like McCollum, Zeller appears to be a fairly safe pick -- his ratings run from 6 to 9 on our ballots for the Secret NBA Draft Big Board. Zeller's stellar advanced metric numbers may be helping him here, along with a belief that he'll make the transition from college center to NBA stretch 4. Zeller's draft night range is 4 to 12.
June 18 Update: The 76ers are looking for size. With Andrew Bynum a free agent, Spencer Hawes and Arnett Moultrie are the closest things they have to bigs. Zeller is more of a 4 than a 5, but his athletic ability, combined with his shooting stroke, should allow them to stretch the floor. Adams, Duke's Mason Plumlee and Brazil's Lucas Nogueira are also possibilities in Philly.
June 10 Update: Zeller has worked out for the Jazz, Suns, Blazers and Thunder already, and has workouts scheduled with the Timberwolves, Kings, 76ers, Pistons, Bobcats and Magic. Everywhere Zeller has gone he hasn't exactly played against top competition, but teams have been very positive about his workouts, saying he's shot the ball well. The hardest thing for Zeller is finding the right fit. The Suns and Kings are possibilities, as are the Sixers, Thunder and Jazz in the lottery.
May 28 Update: Zeller helped himself tremendously with his athletic testing numbers at the combine. He tested as the most athletic big man in the draft and was in the top five of all participants at the combine. Now he just needs to complete the deal by proving to scouts that he has the perimeter skills to make the transition to the 4 position. If he shoots the ball well, he'll move up another few spots on our board.
May 20 Update: Indiana's Cody Zeller stopped his slide in the rankings on Friday with a terrific performance in the athletic testing. While NBA teams take the athletic testing with a grain of salt, Zeller's numbers were hard to ignore. Not only were his numbers terrific for a big man, they were great for a guard.
Zeller's stock dropped, in part, because there were several games in which he really struggled against long, athletic front lines. Seeing how well he performed in Chicago has given pause to NBA scouts and GMs who were ready to write him off.
If Zeller can come into workouts and show teams he has a real perimeter game (he and his agents are promising he does) he'll can make a stronger argument he has the foot speed and athletic ability to make the transition to the four. If Zeller can convince scouts and GMs of that, he could very well move back into the top five.
May 15 Update: Zeller was pegged as a potential top-3 pick at the start of the season, but he has seen his stock steadily decline. The combine would be a good opportunity to remind scouts about his skill in the paint, his fluidity in the open floor and his work ethic. However, he is unlikely to participate in the drills section of the combine. But he could be helped -- or hurt -- by the measurements and athletic testing.
May 8 Update (Projected No. 11, 76ers): While there still are a few scouts clinging to the Zeller bandwagon, it's gotten less crowded over the past few months. While there are a few teams with which Zeller fits ahead of the Sixers' pick, this looks like the most obvious fit. With the exception of Spencer Hawes, the Sixers just don't have a lot of size. While I don't think Zeller is worthy of a top-five pick anymore, he's a good value here.
May 2 Update: Three or four months ago, Zeller engendered significant debate about his NBA potential. Some had him as a top-3 pick. Others didn't have him in the lottery. The debate has lessened as Zeller has clearly fallen in the mind of most scouts. But given the weakness of the draft, he still has a decent shot at the lottery. The Timberwolves, Sixers, Thunder and Mavericks are all potential landing spots for Zeller.
Apr 10 Update: Zeller began the season projected as a top-three pick. He is one of the two or three most skilled big men in the country, is exceptional leaking out on the fast break, has great hands and is difficult to contain when he catches the ball in the high post. However, Zeller's lack of length and strength have posed problems for him when paired up against long, physical, athletic big men. His lack of a great perimeter game also hinders his abilities somewhat. Scouts are a bit torn about what position he guards at the next level. He's likely a mid- to late-lottery pick.
Apr 2 Update: Zeller's rough tournament turned into a nightmare on Thursday against Syracuse. He's struggled with long, athletic front lines all season, and Syracuse absolutely shut him down. He ended the game just 3-for-11 from the field and had his shot blocked six times. Yes, Syracuse was physical with him, and a few of those plays looked like fouls, but to NBA scouts who have worried all season that Zeller's game wouldn't translate against the athleticism and toughness of NBA front lines, this game was a harbinger of things to come.
While there are still a handful of NBA GMs and scouts who are huge believers in Zeller, that pool has shrunk considerably over the course of the past few months. NBA scouts are openly saying he needs to return to Bloomington for another season and work on his strength and perimeter game.
Mar 26 Update: Zeller has had a terrific season, but college teams do seem to have figured out how to disrupt his game. When teams throw physical players at him, his efficiency drops. In both the Wisconsin and Temple games, Zeller struggled around the basket with the physical defense. He's been better when he catches the ball on the high post and creates. He really is need of a signature game or two in the tournament to prove to scouts he has the toughness it takes to be a NBA player.
Mar 13 Update: Zeller has been on fire of late. His last game of the regular season, a 25-point, 10-rebound effort against Michigan, was his best of the season. He showed off his ability to score in multiple ways and demanded the ball down the stretch in IU's toughest road game of the year. Scouts are still struggling to see how his game will translate, but he too could really help his draft stock with a very strong performance the next few weeks.
Feb 27 Update: Zeller has become the prospect who everyone respects and acknowledges, but whom no one ever seems to fall in love with. Zeller is "friend material," not a "love interest" for most scouts. While there isn't a GM or scout I've spoken with that could conceive of Zeller dropping out of the top 10, most of them also said they weren't sure he'd be a good fit for their teams. In other words, the "It's not you, it's me" defense. Combine their platonic love with Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe dominating Zeller on Tuesday night (Zeller was just 2-for-9 from the field, while Mbakwe scored 21 and grabbed 11 rebounds), and you can see why Zeller's stock has taken a real hit this season.
Jan 28 Update: A little more than a month ago, I had Zeller atop our list of the best college players in the country and had him ranked as a top-three prospect in the NBA draft.
A month later, it's harder for me to argue for either ranking. As far as top college players go, his production simply doesn't quite reach the level of some of his competition. In fact, I think it's fair to argue that teammate Oladipo actually might be more valuable to the Hoosiers right now.
I know Jay disagrees and makes the statistical argument for Zeller. But after watching Indiana the past month, I understand those who side with Oladipo as well. He plays so hard, is so disruptive on the defensive end and sets the tone for this Indiana team. It certainly feels as if it's Oladipo, not Zeller, who sets the pace for the Hoosiers.
And if you want advanced stats for support, Ken Pomeroy's Offensive Rating has Oladipo slightly ahead of Zeller. Yes, Zeller rebounds slightly more than Oladipo, but Zeller is 6-foot-11 and Oladipo just 6-5. Zeller's rebounding rate for a big man is very average. Oladipo's rebounding rate is excellent for a guard. Oladipo shoots a higher percentage than Zeller despite the fact Zeller's shots are much closer to the basket. Oladipo's shooting percentages as a guard are ridiculously good.
Zeller, matched up against the Spartans' big, athletic front line, struggled. He ended the game with just nine points on 2-of-7 shooting and seemed to shrink a bit from the physical play in the paint. Meanwhile, the Spartans' big man, Adreian Payne, produced against Zeller what might have been his best game of the season, with 18 points, nine rebounds and three 3-pointers.
As far as best college players go, Oladipo, Michigan's Trey Burke, Creighton's Doug McDermott, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk and my personal favorite, Kansas' Ben McLemore, all would get the nod over Zeller at the moment.
NBA scouts are having an even harder time with Zeller right now. Teams are struggling to get their arms around what position he'll guard at the next level. He's not big or strong enough to be an NBA center. But the Michigan State game highlighted some of the issues with Zeller playing the 4.
More and more NBA big men can take it out past the 3-point line to stretch the floor. Zeller struggled all day guarding that shot from Payne, who made Zeller and Indiana pay. Offensively, while Zeller is incredibly efficient, his best skill is his ability to run the floor and get out ahead on the break. He's truly spectacular in the open floor in college. But at the NBA level? Can you name one NBA team that consistently leads the break with its big man? It's a skill that's unlikely to be particularly helpful in the NBA. Zeller's biggest NBA fans remain the stat heads; his high-efficiency game measures out nicely on a number of different metrics.
Don't get me wrong. I still think Zeller is an elite college basketball player and has enough skills/intangibles to be a good NBA player. But right now it's hard to justify him potentially being the No. 1 pick in the draft or the college basketball player of the year. In the past month, Zeller has dropped to No. 7 on my Top 100 and is in danger of dropping several more spots if his production doesn't rise in the last month of the season.
Jan 16 Update: Zeller began the season at No. 2 on our Top 100 but has slid in recent weeks as scouts try to figure out how his game will translate to the NBA level. Zeller is having a very good season, but his lack of a true position in the pros might cause him to slide ... a little bit.
Dec 17 Update: Scouts have cooled a bit on Zeller the past few weeks. Though he's played well enough for Indiana, questions center on his fit at the next level. Is he big enough to play the 5? Does he have enough of a perimeter game to play the 4? What is he exactly? The basketball skills are all there, and no big man runs the floor better than Zeller. But scouts continue to struggle to find the right comparison, which hurts his chances of going in the top three.
Oct 25 Update: While the Big Ten itself may be weak, it does have one of the two or three best players in the country in Zeller. While Zeller doesn't, at first glance, look the part of a high lottery pick, he has the game to back up that lofty status.
Zeller has the size and athletic ability to play in the post, run the floor and finish above the rim. His quickness for a player his size and his field goal percentage were off the charts as a freshman.
He's got terrific footwork and is as fundamentally sound as any big man in the NCAA, and he's shown a surprising ability to score in traffic. He's also a solid defender who averaged nearly two steals and 1.5 blocks per game as a freshman.
He needs to get stronger, but scouts say that's something he worked on this summer. He also could be a better rebounder for someone with his gifts and could expand his range on his jumper.
If Zeller delivers on the hype (and there's a lot of it for him this season) he will seriously challenge Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Apr 10 Update: Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd Gilchrist may have been the best two freshmen in the country this year, but Zeller wasn't far behind. While everyone knew he'd be a NBA prospect someday, no one thought he would come on this fast and this strong so early. Many scouts thought, right now, he was better than his brother Tyler. He played well head-to-head with Davis in two meetings and many scouts believe he has the chance to be special in the NBA. Had he declared for this draft he would've been a Top 10 pick for sure. Next year he's likely to begin the year ranked in the Top 5.
Mar 26 Update: All year we've had Zeller ranked 10 to 15 spots higher than just about everywhere else. On Friday versus Kentucky, Zeller showed why. Some have questioned his ability to do his thing against players with NBA length. But on Saturday, against Anthony Davis (whom many scouts predict will win many Defensive Player of the Year awards in the NBA) and Terrence Jones, he showed that he can score over length -- ending the game with 20 points and 7 rebounds. It's doubtful that Zeller will declare this year for the draft. However, if he does, he'll go very high. He's been in our Top 10 since late December, but as of mid-March he now sits at No. 6 on our Big Board.
Mar 12 Update: The Good: Zeller is a long, efficient big man, who, like his brother Tyler, runs the floor like a guard. His fluidity in the post creates a lot of matchup issues. He's got a terrific basketball IQ and rarely takes bad shots. Very few freshmen big men have a rookie year like Zeller has. His 31.19 PER ranks him as the sixth-best player in the NCAA.
The Bad: Zeller needs to continue to add strength. He can be bullied a bit in the paint, which will obviously concern scouts a little. While he's had an awesome freshman campaign, he could really use another year of polish.
The Upside: Zeller was never really seen by NBA scouts as a one-and-done prospect before the first month of the season. If he can replicate his success this season in the tournament, there will be a lot of pressure for him to come out, as he's a likely top-10 pick. Sources say he really wants another year at Indy, however, so unless the Hoosiers win it all, I think Indiana fans can rest easy.
Dec 20 Update: Several weeks ago we discussed a brewing debate among scouts about which Zeller brother -- Tyler Zeller (Top 100 Rank: 19) or Cody Zeller (Top 100 Rank: 12) -- was the better NBA prospect this season. Back then, Tyler had a small lead on Cody. That lead has evaporated. Cody had the biggest test of his college career two weeks ago versus Kentucky and he played well -- 11 points and seven rebounds might not sound like a lottery pick, but against Anthony Davis and company, it counts for something. He's also had big games against North Carolina State and Notre Dame in the past few weeks. Most NBA teams I've spoken with think Cody could be a lottery pick in 2012 if he comes out. He needs to get stronger, no question, but in three years, he's likely to be much further along than his brother. Tyler? He's playing better but still looks like a mid-first-rounder.
Nov 29 Update: UNC's Tyler Zeller (Top 100 Rank: 17) is getting plenty of love as a potential lottery pick this year. But his younger brother, Indiana's Cody Zeller (Top 100 Rank: 19) might actually be the better long-term prospect. In fact, he might be better right now. Through the first six games of the season, Cody is averaging 14.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.7 spg and shooting a ridiculous 73 percent from the field. His college PER is a whopping 34.22. Tyler is averaging 13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.3 spg and shooting 46 percent from the field. His PER is a more pedestrian 20.94.
Yes, Tyler is playing on a team that has more options and yes, the Tar Heels have faced a tougher schedule to date. But virtually every scout I speak with says that Cody is the better prospect of the two. He's more athletic, a better offensive player and is quite a bit ahead of his brother.
"If I was choosing between the two, I'd choose Cody," one scout said. "Tyler is big and runs the floor well, but I think Cody has a lot more to his game."
Sadly, the two won't play head-to-head this season. But they'll get close. Tyler's Tar Heels play at Kentucky on Saturday and Cody's Hoosiers follow up with a game versus the Wildcats a week later. How they play against potential No. 1 pick Anthony Davis might be the best measure yet of how the two stack up against each other.
Mar 31 Update: The Zellers haven't been huge draft prospects until Tyler really came into his own in 2010-11. Now scouts are going to look at Cody closer too. He's not quite as big as his brother, but he runs the floor well and scouts say he's the best prospect of the bunch.