Published on April 20th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist0
2012 NBA Draft Prospect Stock Watch: Tyler Zeller
Name: Tyler Zeller
Hometown: Washington, IN
Physicals: 7′0″, 250 lbs, 22 years old
College: North Carolina
NBA Position: Center
Current Stats: 16.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, .8 APG, 1.5 BPG, 55.3% FG, 80.8% FT
Tyler Zeller is old school. He stayed at North Carolina for four years, but returned each year better than he’d been before. And even in a league hungry for the younger players with more potential, it’s likely we’ll still see the 22 year old big man in the early stages of the first round.
I wrote last week that nearly all of the players in this draft were, in varying degrees, boom-or-bust type players. That is not the case with Tyler Zeller. He’s the lone senior in this class considered a lock for a top-20 pick, and whatever team picks him knows exactly what they are getting.
He’s an incredibly smart player, and there really isn’t any part of his game you can’t like. He’s very comfortable around the basket, both with his back to it and facing it up. He’s got a decent jump shot, although he was never really asked to utilize it at North Carolina, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s used as an offensive weapon in the pros.
Hit the jump for the rest of Bryant’s scouting report…
He’s got great hands and very sufficient handles, and for his size he’s got excellent speed. He’s a very fluid player, especially on offense. He’s hardly a great leaper, but he made up for it in college thanks to his basketball IQ and his ability to box people out and his strong array of offensive moves. His go to move on the block is his right handed jump hook, but his tool kit has improved every year.
While he wasn’t the most confident low-block player his first couple of years, he definitely picked it up in his senior year as was actively calling for the ball. While he used to shy away from contact, he became a far more determined player on both ends of the court. This is most obvious in his rebounding numbers, which climbed from 7.2 his junior year to 9.6 his senior year with no significant climb in minutes.
Defensively, he makes up for his lack of athleticism with his IQ. He knows how to stay in front of more athletic guys, but he will have to adjust in the NBA. While he’s a decent size at 250 lbs, he really will need to add more strength so that he can defend against NBA quality centers.
Still, aside from a need for more muscle, there isn’t much to dislike in Zeller’s game. The only downside is that he certainly doesn’t have the ceiling that many bigs (Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger, John Henson) have in this draft. But where they are risks, Zeller really isn’t.
Draft Watch: With guys like Jones, Sullinger, Henson and even Terrance Jones from Kentucky all risky picks, Zeller’s draft slot will be a fascinating study into NBA teams’ thinking. How in love with potential will teams be? Will they pass on potential for a sure thing? Or will Zeller fall past all four of those other players, simply because teams hope they could become better than Zeller? It’s a safe bet that at least one of those younger players will end up worse off than Zeller.
Lucky for Zeller and the rest of those fringe lottery bigs, tons of teams from 10 to about 20 need bigs. Milwaukee, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver and Boston are all squads currently set to pick in between 10 and 20 would could really use Zeller’s skills.
In Milwaukee, he’d pair with the stronger/more agile Epke Udoh for a decent foundation of young bigs. Phoenix needs any kind of talent they can get, but could you imagine the combined bball IQ of Steve Nash and Tyler Zeller? Philadelphia can safely pick best player available and Zeller may be that when Philadelphia picks (currently set at #16). Denver is always on the lookout for multitalented bigs, while both Dallas and Boston just need size badly.
Conclusion: You know what you’re getting in Zeller. You’re getting a smart, cerebral big man with no real weakness in his game other than a lack of muscle, which can be fixable. It’ll be interesting to see where Zeller falls in a draft full of high-risk-high-reward big men.