Cody Zeller is one of those prospects who makes the transition an interesting process to follow.
An excellent college player at a top-flight program, scouts and fans have been torn with regard to Zeller's pro potential.
Charlotte Bobcats general manager Rich Cho recently mentioned, per the the Charlotte Observer, that Zeller reminds him of LaMarcus Aldridge, a comparison I've felt strongly about since the end of his freshman year.
Bobcat fans should feel good about their newest rookie's future outlook. Between his offensive strengths and physical tools, Zeller should have the chance at looking like Portland's All-Star forward by the time he's a finished product.
Zeller and Aldridge finished their college careers with some similarities and differences regarding their physical tools and measurements.
|Height||Weight||Wingspan||Max Vertical||Bench Press||Lane Agility|
Zeller measured strong vertically but not horizontally, where his wingspan falls six inches short of Aldridge's. However, Zeller proved to be a much better athlete, making up for length with awesome hops and lateral quickness.
Still, both players have physical advantages at the 4 position, given their measurements and the skill sets each bring to the NBA table.
Sweet Spot on the Floor
Aldridge makes his living in the high-post-to-mid-range area on either side of the key. For those with the skill set, it's a spot that offers dangerous scoring angles.
Zeller projects as a power forward who'll occupy similar space on the floor as Aldridge does.
Take a look at where Aldridge did his damage in 2013.
Aldridge's shot chart, via Vorped.com, shows he made 345 jump shots in the mid-range area last season (outside the key but inside the arc). His jumper powers his production at the pro level—Aldridge not only uses it as a go-to path for points but to set up the dribble-drive that leads to a higher-percentage look.
And this is how Zeller will make his bread as a pro. But first, he has to establish his jumper as a constant threat to the defense, the way Aldridge has over the course of his career.
At Indiana, Zeller showed some promising touch as a shooter. But his role in the offense called for low-post play. He wasn't given the green light to play on the perimeter despite his jumper being a strength.
When given the opportunity, Zeller has looked comfortable and natural as an outside shooter. According to KenPom's advanced statistics (subscription required), Zeller finished No. 9 in the country in true shooting percentage in 2012 and No. 51 in 2013.
He also shot 75 percent from the free-throw line in back-to-back years at Indiana (Aldridge shot around 65 percent both years at Texas).
Zeller was terrific in July during summer league, finishing the event with averages of 16.3 points and 9.3 boards on 52 percent shooting. And his jumper appeared to be working just fine:
If this jumper truly becomes a weapon Zeller can consistently go to in the half court, he's going to become a very difficult matchup for opposing bigs.
Zeller is a fantastic athlete with exceptional foot speed for a seven-footer. He finished over a second faster than Aldridge during the lane agility drill at the combine, a wide margin for two players at the same position.
With Zeller's quick first step, slower-footed big men will have trouble keeping up laterally. Opposing 4s and 5s won't feel comfortable defending too far from the rim, where they're vulnerable to getting blown by.
Like Aldridge, Zeller can put it on the floor and take his man off the bounce. The threat he poses as a shooter should ultimately force defenders to play up, putting Zeller in position to rip through and attack.
Both Zeller and Aldridge have excellent touch and movement in the post. They each have multiple moves with their back to the rim that can put them in scoring position.
Like Aldridge, Zeller can be slippery when maneuvering in the paint, with the ability to slide off defenders and separate for an open look.
Zeller and Aldridge are both clever post players who can create their own high-percentage shots. Whether it's scoring over the shoulder or spinning backdoor for a layup, they have counters to what the defense takes away.
Defense and Rebounding
LaMarcus Aldridge isn't a bad defender, but you wouldn't refer to him as a defensive asset. He averages one block a game for his career, primarily thanks to his incredible length.
Zeller offers a little more versatility, though he might not be as effective holding his ground in the post. His lateral quickness should allow him to guard 4s away from the rim, but there are questions surrounding his toughness and ability to bang down low with the beasts.
On the glass, Zeller is better at rebounding out of his area than in it, where he can go and chase loose balls down instead of having to seal off his man. He raised his average from 6.6 as a freshman to eight a game as a sophomore. He pulled in 9.3 a game this summer, so he's at least showing strong signs of improvement.
As Aldridge has gotten older and stronger, his rebounding numbers have also shot up. He's seen his average gradually rise from five a game as an NBA rookie and 7.6 as a sophomore to 9.1 in 2013.
There's no reason why Zeller can't be pulling in roughly eight a game by his third or fourth year in the league, given his size and athleticism. But it just comes a little more natural to Aldridge, who's longer and broader up top.
It would be a little bold to just flat-out say that Zeller will be an All-Star like LaMarcus Aldridge. But he's got the tools that could allow him to make a similar impact.
Zeller's floor is high—there's virtually no chance he's a bust when you consider his physical tools and polished talent.
If his worst-case scenario is actually going to happen, chances are it's because he struggles as a shooter, rebounder and defender.
But I just don't see it. At least not in the long term.
After a few years of adjusting to the new size and spacing of the pro game, Zeller could end up looking like one of the league's tougher frontcourt covers.