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Blogcat's Take, 3/22


Good news, Cody Zeller fans: it looks as if your boy might finally be learning a thing or two—besides which side of his face inflicts the least pain when he smacks it off the floor during the estimated 25 times per game he’s sent sprawling. There’s good crashing and bad crashing, by the way. Good crashing is epitomized by Gerald Wallace, whose nickname of “Crash” is the second-most appropriate of all time, trailing only “Bull” for Nostradamus Shannonon on Night Court. Gerald Wallace couldn’t have hit the floor more often if he was Siamese twins with a mop, but it was in the service of blocking shots, skying for rebounds, and delivering kamikaze jams all over fools’ heads. Zeller, on the other hand, splatters on the wood like an exploding can of Pledge because of his Glass Joe-level of ability to take contact. That might be changing (see below), but for now he’s still in the early phase of any Karate Kid movie in which he’s just taking a beating and getting trash-talked.

Which I guess in a sense makes his learning curve more impressive, because it’s done in the context of a 15 minute-per-game flogging every night. Judging by the NBA’s Player Impact Estimate rating (or “PIE,” which I guess they have to come up with because ESPN holds the patent on “PER”?), Zeller’s score has moved up consistently month-over-month, from 5.3% in November, to 6.9% in December, to 7.2% in January, to 11.4% in February, to 12.5% so far in March. Before you go calling your grandma about it, though, just note that his season average is 8.2%, or less than half of Al Jefferson’s 16.5%. So getting too excited about this is like Spain getting excited about “doubling” its economic growth forecast this year, from 0.5% to 1%. It’s trending upwards, sure, the Kobra Kai are still kicking ass and stealing your BMX.

All of the advanced metrics are pretty consistent, too: he’s bad but improving. ESPN’s PER (do I need a copyright symbol?) lists him as a sub-average 12.28, which is only 13th among active rookies...but up from January’s 9.25 mark (suck on that 33% growth, Spain!). Meanwhile, his value over a replacement player (VORP) is .01, which seems totally credible when I imagine him playing his handful of minutes and—besides falling—not really doing a whole lot: he has no value over a replacement player; he is the replacement player. He’s either Paul Westerberg of The Replacements or Keanu Reaves of The Replacements, whichever is less painful for you to think about. BUT, and like Sir Mix-A-Lot, I like big “buts,” he is no longer worse than a replacement player.

In fact, it’s really just his offense that remains the replacement killer. Defensively, believe it or not (and I’m not sure I do), the Zell-Hound’s just slightly below average. His defensive regularized plus/minus (which I’m terrified to say out loud by its acronym, RAPM, because doesn’t it have to be pronounced “rape ’em”?) is a not horrible -0.49, while 82games.com has him holding opposing PFs to a 15.6 PER and centers to an even-better 13.3 PER. As a team the Bobcats are allowing 101.2 points/100 possessions with Zeller on the court, which is respectable and .4 better than when he’s off. How he’s doing it with an upper body that’s less solid than Slimer’s is totally unclear to me, especially with a personal foul rate of 4.7 per 36 minutes, which leads even Bismack Biyombo (4.0) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (3.6), both of whom I imagine got whistled for blocking while coming out of the womb. The numbers don’t lie though, Zeller is no defensive juggernaut, but he’s at least a naut.

That shooting, though—man oh man, it’s that of a blind man with a bazooka. Zeller’s TS% of .475 is the worst on the team, excluding Luke Ridnour, who’s apparently still PTSD’ing from his time with the Bucks. The urgently-needed good news is that Zeller’s started taking it to the hoop more lately, whereas at the beginning of the year he approached it as if it were an overturned port-a-john. Pre-All-Star Break, 36.8% of Zeller’s field goal attempts were mid-range jump shots, compared to 48.8% from within the restricted area. Since then, those ghastly mid-range attempts have fallen to 25% of his overall volume, and his restricted area attempts are up to 65%. And that’s a damned good thing, because those mid-range attempts by Zeller could only be more harmful if he simply wound up and threw the ball as hard as he could at his own crotch—he is a brutally bad jump-shooter. And once Co-Ze gets to the rim, he’s finishing much better than he did earlier this year—63% compared to 48.4%. The TS% combined with his upwardly mobile rebounding rate are what’s driving his performance toward the distant realm of the acceptable.

So the defense is acceptable and the offense is less horrible, which leaves us with the intangibles. First is the improvement itself demonstrates a capacity to learn (if not to remain upright). Second, I don’t care if you’re Titus Andronicus; you’ve got to applaud Zeller’s athleticism. Whether it was that crazy and-1-and-tumble layup on a fast break against the Cavs last week, the converted alley-oop of the aforementioned Luke Ridnour’s shell-shocked airball to end the 3rd quarter against the Wizards, or his propensity to deliver some huge blocks, Zeller seems destined to make at least one pretty amazing leaping/falling-related highlight play per night, and a sign that the bad crashing is making a turn for the better. My favorite was this chase-down block on Andre Drummond a few weeks ago. Fittingly, it comes off his own air-ball jump shot, so it basically encapsulates his career thus far: atrocious offense, spectacular airborne defense. The only thing it doesn’t have is a wiped-out Zeller draped all over the floor. Don’t worry, though, as there’s no shortage of that footage either.


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  • 5 Comments

    This offseason they should lock him in the weightroom for 5 months and feed him nothing but water and protein. 

     

    If he can somehow manage to put on a bit more mass to hold his ground against the "grown men" in the NBA it will help his game so, so much.

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    gamecocksmitty4
    Mar 22 2014 06:10 PM

    This offseason they should lock him in the weightroom for 5 months and feed him nothing but water and protein. 

     

    If he can somehow manage to put on a bit more mass to hold his ground against the "grown men" in the NBA it will help his game so, so much.

     

    When he's not eating, he should be shooting mid-range J's. When he makes that a consistent part of his game he's going to be very dangerous. Forcing bigs to close out on his shot will give him the ability to put the ball on the deck and blow by for the layup/dunk that he does so well.

    If the pro-HGH movement wants to strengthen its case, they should use Zeller as their poster boy--similar to how the medical marijuana lobbyists enlist cancer patients and paraplegics.

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    GeorgeOscarBluth
    Mar 23 2014 07:36 PM

    Zeller seems much more comfortable now.  It's clear that he's flowing through the offense as opposed to going through the motions.  I'm not sure what his upside is, but it's clear he will have a very long career in the NBA.  The key for him more than anything is to fine tune his jumper.  I'm more concerned (i.e. focused, not that I think it's problematic) with that then I am his strength.  

    Zeller seems much more comfortable now.  It's clear that he's flowing through the offense as opposed to going through the motions.  I'm not sure what his upside is, but it's clear he will have a very long career in the NBA.  The key for him more than anything is to fine tune his jumper.  I'm more concerned (i.e. focused, not that I think it's problematic) with that then I am his strength.  

     

    A fine tuned jumper and...

     

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