When the Bobcats selected Cody Zeller with the 4th overall pick in this year’s draft, the reaction on Twitter was somewhat dismissive. The Bobcats’ history of agonizing fans with horrendous usage of 1st round draft picks is well documented. The team irresponsibly drafted the likes of Adam Morrison, Brandan Wright, DJ Augustin, and some french kid named Alexis Ajinca who could actually be a circus act posing as a basketball player. These are the memories that are deeply etched in the minds of many around the Charlotte area. People have gotten so used to draft blunders that they do not even realize when a solid pick is made. Yes, I believed from day 1 that Cody Zeller was a solid pick for the Bobcats. And I contend that if it were not for the shameful history of the team, more people would recognize Cody Zeller as a solid pick. Let me explain.
Most people have a natural tendency to overlook the good when so much bad has happened. This could explain why the pick was not well received and celebrated as it should have been. Consider Zeller’s career at Indiana where he averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 60% from the field and 75% from the free throw line. These are numbers that should not be dismissed or ignored. He possesses legitimate low post moves, a respectable mid-range jump shot, and knows how to get to the free throw line. Zeller is also a capable rebounder despite his slender build which is one of the knocks against him. How would his game transfer to the NBA where players are stronger and tougher? Would he be able to hold his own? Did the Bobcats waste another lottery pick?
These questions were looming large as the NBA Summer League got underway in Las Vegas earlier this month. It was our first look at Cody Zeller in an NBA setting and as always in summer league play, people are watching to see how well or not so well (Ben Mclemore) the top draft picks will perform. After a subpar performance in his first outing, Zeller averaged 19 points and 10.7 in the other 3 games he participated in. He showed a consistent and efficient ability to score both inside and out by converting 52% of his attempts from the field. His underrated athleticism allowed him to run the floor well and score in traffic. His versatility and scoring ability combined with increased aggression and activity on the boards made him one of the standout players. When everyone departed from Vegas, Zeller was widely regarded as being amongst the most impressive rookies. He showed that he belonged and answered some questions from the critics along the way.
The Bobcats have lacked any resemblance of inside scoring and rebounding since the days of Emeka Okafor. To say that drafting Cody Zeller addressed a glaring need, is a gross understatement. The acquisition of Al Jefferson only helps Zeller’s development. He will not be asked to carry the load and be a leader on the team. He will be able to play off Jefferson along with improving guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson. When the Bobcats take the court this fall, expect Zeller to be a contributor early and often. Maybe then people will allow themselves to recognize that this was a solid pick. Who knows, people may even have to acknowledge that Michael Jordan and Co. got yet another thing right in 2013, as strange as that sounds.