Player preview: Tyler Zeller
Why did I pick Tyler Zeller before those remaining?
To be honest, I’m not sure I should have. I think the Cavaliers have long-term plans for Zeller (see below), and I do think he will fulfill them quite nicely, but his value to the current team may be less than that of CJ Miles. Originally, I was thrilled to be able to pick Zeller at 11 because I have a sneaking submission we’ll need him in case one of our other big men somehow gets injured (a HUGE if), but the fact is, CJ Miles may have a skill that allows him to contribute right now in his shooting. Zeller is the more complete player, and he will have more value to the Cavaliers long term, but it was a tight decision to go with Zeller. But I did, so let’s go with it.
What does Tyler Zeller bring to the team this year?
Well, what does the average 3rd best center bring to a team? Typically, not a whole lot, but when your team has two centers made out of porcelain, it’s suddenly nice to have a first round pick as your third stringer. I mean, none of us want our boys to get hurt, but let’s face the facts: Zeller will almost certainly be the back-up center at some point this year, if not the starter.
I know I just made a few of you cry, but be still; I have sweet words to soothe you. Others of you just yelled something about Tristan Thompson being able to play center way better than Zeller. First for the angry people: You might be right, but even if Thompson proves very effective playing small-ball center, I doubt the Cavaliers would start him there for long chunks of time. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just want everyone to stop and prepare themselves for a world where Zeller gets significant minutes for the Cavaliers for a second straight year.
Now I want to explain why this shouldn’t make us all sad. I know Zeller was bad last year. I don’t even need stats. If you watched Zeller play last year for just about any 5 minute stretch, you know he was bad. In every category. In every game. There may have been games where he was less bad, but he was always some level of bad.
But this does not mean he will always be bad. In fact, there are some good reasons why he may see great improvement this year. First, he was a rookie last year. Rookies usually get better. Second, he was a rookie big man. Those almost always get better. Finally, he was left with a comical lack of quality instruction last year. You have to think that a defense-first coach like Mike Brown will be better for Zeller’s development than Byron Scott, a guard’s coach. Assistant coach Zydrunas Ilgauskas should help to. And of course, having quality, NBA level centers around Zeller will help too. Zeller had that last year-for 27 games. And even if Bynum is a terrible mentor and Varajao’s Brazilian jokes are over Zeller’s head, there simple presence should allow Zeller to see what it takes to be a quality NBA big man.
So we will see Zeller on the court this year, even in competitive games. Believe it or not, but he actually has the tools to be decent, and given proper guidance and a reasonable role, it’s quite possible that we will be less depressed about, and maybe even excited about the possibility of Zeller checking into the game.
Zeller’s role is hard to predict. If he becomes the starting center, he will be asked to put that fabled newfound muscle and bulk to work and rebound, defend, and score within the system. If he simply gets some work at backup, his job will be to not be a disaster on D and on the glass while scoring efficiently.
What is Tyler Zeller’s long-term potential with the Cavaliers?
Quite simply, Zeller was put on this planet to be a backup center. NBA players are all imperfect, but career backups in particular are bound to have a few areas in their game that leave something to be desired. What usually allows a 3rd big off the bench to be effective is a general competence in several areas, and an above average skill in one or two others. For Zeller, his skill could be efficient post scoring while bringing relative competence in rebounding and defense. Even this job would require some development, but imagine with me that Zeller becomes competent in the areas that require manliness out of a center. As a backup center, Zeller would be able to come into a game for a few stretches and score efficiently while using his legitimate length to bother opposing big men and grab rebounds. In theory, Zeller would be a lot better than the other team’s backup center, so the Cavaliers could have an actual advantage for the 15 or so minutes a night when Zeller came in. For those of you who don’t have such a vibrant imagination, try this one: Zeller scores 10 points a game without being a dumpster fire on D. That wouldn’t make him an incredible back up center, but at least he’ll be better than Ryan Hollins.