Minnesota Timberwolves Draft Prospect: Cody Zeller

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Cody Zeller, University of Indiana

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Positives: I guess it’s Indiana week on HTW. On Monday, Tom so nicely laid out the prospects of Victor Oladipo, perhaps the best fit for the Wolves in the whole draft. I highly suggest you give it a read. And now on to the next Hoosier. For those of you that only watch college basketball come March Madness, you likely got the wrong idea of Cody Zeller. The sophomore center carried much of the burden that was created from a Sweet Sixteen ousting to the hands of Syracuse and that deadly 2-3 zone. In that game, Zeller went just 3-11 from the field in that one as the Orange suffocated Zeller in all facets on the offensive side of the ball. But take Zeller’s entire body of work and he’s one of the best big men in the country. The biggest positive to Zeller is his polished game as just a 20-year old. Unlike the top-ranked center, Nerlens Noel, Zeller has the ability to score from the low block all on his own. He can expand his range and hit from the elbow too, which adds diversity to his game. Watching him extensively during the Big Ten season, Zeller, even for a near 7-footer — some claim he’s a legit 7-feet tall — he’s an extremely spry runner, a very efficient athlete who sprints rim to rim very effectively. Along with his speed, he’s very quick which gives him an advantage over many other centers in the NBA already.

Negatives: Unfortunately, I have to troll back to that Syracuse game I spoke of in the positives section. Arguably the biggest knock on Zeller is his lack of intensity, particularly on defense. And once panic sets in, his offensive game turns sloppy in a hurry. He allows it to get the best of him which turns into poor shot attempts at the rim and easily contested, and often blocked, shots. You saw it in two notable games against Minnesota, when the likes of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams turned Zeller back on some vicious blocks, and the Syracuse Sweet Sixteen matchup, where Zeller had no answer against that impenetrable zone. And he doesn’t have the physicality to overcome any struggles. NBA centers will have no trouble boxing Zeller out on the board and having their way with him in the paint. So either he has to bulk up severely or continue to improve his interior game with better footwork and sheer deception.

Bottom Line: Zeller strikes me as the epitome of this draft; full of kids that will be able to crack rotations and make bad teams better but probably not turn any franchise around on their own. Zeller is bound to be a good player but nothing great, even if he does improve on his weaknesses. I see Zeller as nothing more than a strong rotational guy or a starter on a bad team, and he sorta reminds me of a more skilled and polished version of Tyler Hansbrough, which can be good or bad, however you want to take that. Regardless, he’ll end up being a top-10 pick and likely to fall in the range where the Wolves could get him.

Timberwolves Fit: Countless talks and arguments with friends and family have me defending the state of the Timberwolves. This incoming draft class doesn’t change my mind about that at all. Most free agents, if they decide to go down that route, will likely be better players immediately than 95% of this draft. That’s where I struggle with drafting Zeller if I were David Kahn. Who’s to say that Zeller will be any better than Dante Cunningham next year? I wouldn’t bet on it. Zeller is a good fit as a fourth or fifth big, which the Wolves do need, but I don’t take him unless I’m convinced there aren’t better options out there, especially in free agency.

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