Cody Zeller announced that he will be entering the NBA Draft in June, this week. Unfortunately for Zeller, his draft day will not be as exciting as he might have imagned it would have been before the season.
After a strong freshman season at Indiana, where Zeller averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds, the NBA wanted him. Many mock drafts had him as a lottery pick or even a top ten pick in March of last year. He had surpassed his brother, Tyler, in most mock drafts and was a hot stock. However, Zeller decided the next level could wait at least one more year and returned to Indiana, considered to be the best player in the country by many.
Whether or not that was the wrong decision is irrelevant. I think you always take the money if available, especially if you can be a top ten pick. But, it was Zeller’s decision. If you don’t need the money and feel confident that you can not only maintain your level of play but improve in the minds of NBA executives, then returning to college can be a fine choice. Trey Burke made the same decision and his draft stock rose significantly, going from a late first round pick to a lottery pick.
Heading in to this season, many saw Zeller as a potential top pick, or at least a top three pick. However, Zeller did not have the breakout sophomore season many expected and the top pick talk has ended. Zeller’s sophomore season numbers were slightly better than his freshman production, but Zeller was less efficient and did not excel at the eye test. Zeller’s PER dropped from 31.3 to 29.6, while his true shooting and effective shooting percentages both fell as well.
Beyond the numbers, Zeller looked soft at times and was rarely dominant. Zeller was not able to be the dominant big man, who bullies defenders and controls the paint. He was very good, but not great. The fact that Indiana ended up underwhelming in the NCAA Tournament, losing in the Sweet Sixteen, did not help Zeller either.
Many mock drafts have Zeller sitting outside of the top six and as around the third big man taken. His own teammate, Victor Oladipo, could potentially be picked higher than Zeller. Zeller’s stock is very cold right now, as other big men like Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and Mitch McGary (who has not declared for the NBA Draft yet) are very hot right now.
Although Zeller will still be a lottery pick, a massive accomplishment, it is interesting to see how much his return for a sophomore season has hurt the once potential top pick. Now, Zeller could still go on to have a very successful NBA career, but he will not enter the league with as much as excitement as one would have expected back in the fall.