Short Corner: Cody Zeller's emergence, James Harden's explosion and more
Welcome to the Short Corner, a celebration of the NBA in the pithiest form possible. Below are a collection of notebook-style items, laid out for your buffet-style enjoyment.
• What's the opposite of the rookie wall? Charlotte has played conservatively with Cody Zeller's minutes and role all season -- a decision that has paid off through both the unexpected utility of Josh McRoberts and Zeller's gradual acclimation. Whereas the other members of this year's rookie class are fading with fatigue, Zeller has actually picked up his production and efficiency over the past few months.
His post-All-Star shooting percentage is up to 50 percent after shooting just 38 percent in the games prior. He's drawing fouls more consistently and competently than before, stabilizing his scoring contributions. His total rebound rate is up a solid three percent -- from an equivalent rate to Kendrick Perkins to that of Anthony Davis. In a matter of months Zeller has gone from an overwhelmed role player who excelled in nothing in particular to a prospect of emerging, recognizable strengths. It's a shame that Bobcats coach Steve Clifford likely won't get the credit for that transformation that he deserves.
• One of the benefits of having Blake Griffin, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford handle the ball more often for the Clippers is that Chris Paul is freed up to be deployed in all kinds of interesting ways. Take for example this designed pinch post set that L.A. rolled out on Wednesday:
The combination of Griffin's quick roll and Paul's mid-range accuracy makes this an absolutely brutal cover. Hopefully we see more and more of this kind of action come the postseason.
• In the last 15 years, only three NBA players have qualified with a single-season offensive rebounding rate within range of Andre Drummond's league-leading mark this season. They are Erick Dampier, Dan Gadzuric and Jeff Foster -- perhaps the most improbable and little-known cast of historically great rebounders.
• The degree to which Toney Douglas will go out of his way to avoid taking a shot is getting downright silly. I can understand and appreciate that restraint is important in playing for a team like Miami -- particularly when Douglas has a history of derailing his previous teams' offenses. But he needs to at least be somewhat willing to take an attempt when open, else he starts to do damage with his hesitation.
• This is just a gorgeous pass and one that legitimately seems to curve in mid-air to hit Courtney Lee in the shooting pocket:
• Phil Pressey has been one of the more enjoyable components of Boston's overmatched rotation this season, but his slick passing and scrappy defense can only do so much to distract from those truly dreadful shooting percentages. The good news: Some lukewarm shooting of late has helped Pressey's season field goal percentage clear the 30-percent threshold. The bad news: Even still Pressey is in rare company as a horrid shooter logging significant minutes. A word of advice, Phil: When you're rubbing elbows with a career-worst Bobby Hurley and rookie-year Nikoloz Tskitishvili, it's best not to linger.
• The James Harden of the past few weeks has been fully enabled -- playing huge minutes for a Rockets team without both Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley and thus very much in need of bulk scoring to overcome its defensive limitations. The massive stat lines that have resulted have been met with shockingly little fanfare. There are bigger picture issues to sort out as the playoffs near, but the work Harden has done of late is an absurdly exaggerated version of his already terrific play. My favorite bit: Harden has somehow attempted 111 free throws in his last eight games -- almost 14 a night. Knicks point guard Raymond Felton, by contrast, has attempted 114 free throws this entire season.
• Even the worst defensive teams in the league usually have some saving grace, as blanket incompetence is difficult to pull off with an NBA roster. Yet this year's Lakers have managed that feat in some sense, given that they rank in the bottom two in opponent points off of turnovers, opponent second-chance points, opponent fast break points and opponent points in the paint. I am honestly impressed.
• After watching his relentless gunning in Tony Parker's absence, I am beyond excited to see Patty Mills go to work for the Spurs in a postseason setting. He has that Nate Robinson-like potential to win a half outright for San Antonio, albeit in a manner that's slightly less chaotic. Put another way, it's all of the streak-scoring fun without risk of giving Gregg Popovich an aneurysm. Win-win. Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.