How will Indiana star Cody Zeller fare when he makes the jump to the NBA. (Andrew Hancock/SI)
Cody Zeller will be one of the more interesting draft assessments once he makes official what was reported Wednesday morning: That he will be leaving Indiana after his sophomore season to turn pro.
Zeller's choice to come to Indiana and his performances over the last two seasons were a huge part of the Hoosiers' return to national prominence. After a strong freshman season, there was significant National Player of the Year hype surrounding him this past preseason. He didn't achieve to that level, but still had a very solid campaign, and there is some nuance to why he didn't achieve consistently to expectation.
With Victor Oladipo's emergence as a scoring option to go with perimeter shooters like Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, it significantly diminished the need for Zeller to show off his 15-to-17 foot jumper, simply because Indiana had much better options to take jump shots, and those were often for three points instead of two. Zeller was left having to play the 5 even though he's much more clearly a 4.
He was often successful in getting to the free throw line and converting from there, but he doesn't have a very refined post game and isn't strong enough to score on NBA-quality bigs on the block. Zeller shot just 49-for-114 on "post-ups" this season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. If he can't convert consistently against college big men, he has no chance to do it against NBA talent, even if he's not being double-teamed like he often was at Indiana.
Where Zeller was incredibly successful was in using his ability to run to score in transition, and that should translate to the next level. If you followed @LukeWinn's Power Rankings all season, his "GaZeller Watch" showed how dominant Zeller was on runouts. According to Synergy, he converted 39 of his 49 field goal attempts in transition this season, and as Luke showed almost weekly, he was, by far, the most prolific big man in the country in terms of points generated in transition. Zeller can really move for a big, and in a league where hustle and effort can be variable over 82 long games, that's a big plus.
Here's a quick compilation of highlights that show what Zeller is very capable of doing. Notice that there are runouts, side pick-and-rolls, and face-up drives to the basket, but no back-to-the-basket catches on the block.
With some refinement, Zeller should improve his jump shot and probably will be able to increase the range on it closer to the 20-foot level. Combine that with his ability to run and his somewhat underappreciated rebounding ability, and he could become a pretty decent NBA player. It won't be as a post player, though. He'll do his best work facing up and in transition, so like many NBA picks who aren't surefire talents, fit with the team that drafts him will be a significant key for Zeller.