The 2013 NBA Draft’s Most Athletic Big Man
The 2013 NBA Draft is stacking up to have one of the deepest groups of talented seven-footers in quite some time. From tough defensive stalwarts like Jeff Withey to skilled offensive-oriented big men like Kelly Olynyk and everything in between, this draft class has value at the center position throughout the first round.
At the top of the first round, there are two centers that currently rank as the cream of the crop at the position. Former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, projected by many to go No. 1 overall despite a torn ACL, is the top prospect but one player’s stock continues to climb as the draft nears.
Former Indiana big man Cody Zeller blew scouts away with a spectacular display in the athleticism tests at the 2013 NBA Draft Combine this past week. By taking his colleagues to school in athletic drills, Zeller may have propelled himself into being a top-five draft pick this summer. Despite not participating in any other drills at the combine, Zeller – who was already projected by many as a top-10 pick – has vaulted his draft stock in showcasing elite-level athleticism.
Zeller’s no-step vertical jump of 35.5 inches was not only the highest in the draft but set the combine-record for a player 6’9 or above, with Zeller measuring in over 7’0 with shoes. In addition, his modified lane agility time (2.69 seconds) and three-quarter-court sprint (3.5 seconds) ranked as the fastest among both centers and power forwards.
“I always try to separate myself from how hard I work and how much I win,” Zeller said. “I’ve always been a big competitor on and off the basketball court and that’s what’s always separated me.”
In his sophomore season this past year for the Hoosiers, Zeller averaged 16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game to lead Indiana to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Syracuse. As with every high-level lottery pick, Zeller says the goal is to be an All-Star player in the NBA but doesn’t worry about comparing himself to his fellow draftees.
“Yeah, that’s always the goal,” Zeller said. “I don’t really worry about that. I just try to get better every day and not pay attention to the rest of the talent in the NBA draft.”
One thing Zeller says he’s been striving to work on is finding consistency with his mid-range shot. Gaining shooting touch on the perimeter will be key, but Zeller also says he’s getting more comfortable with something he didn’t spend much time on in college: the NBA three-pointer.
“Definitely mid-range, I’m more comfortable in the mid-range,” Zeller said. “But I am getting more used to the NBA three, just because I didn’t work on it as much in college. As I get more reps, I’ll be more comfortable.”
“More shooting outside, more stepping out from the post just because we had so many different weapons at Indiana I didn’t need to do that,” Zeller elaborated. “At the next level I have to do that and I have the ability; I just didn’t get to show it much this year.”
One advantage unique to Zeller is the fact that his brothers, former Phoenix Suns’ center Luke and current Cleveland Cavaliers’ center Tyler, each have NBA experience. The guidance provided by Zeller’s older siblings could pay dividends in a smooth transition to the professional level.
“They haven’t given me anything too big,” Zeller said. “It’s always a tough transition high school to college, college to the NBA, but I talked to both of them a couple times a week during the NBA season, so I kind of know the ups and downs of an NBA season. I think I will be prepared for it next year.”
The biggest hurdle remaining for Zeller will be how he performs for prospective teams that bring him in for private workouts coming up in the next few weeks. Showing teams exactly what he has in his arsenal will be crucial in deciding whether Zeller is a top-five pick or a player that slides closer to 10th overall.
If Zeller can prove that he has gained consistency with his outside shot and that he possesses the acumen to be a force both on the boards and around the defensive rim, he’ll likely be a top pick on June 27.