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Better Know a Prospect: Tyler Zeller, C - UNC


The danger in drafting Tyler Zeller is that in a couple of years, he will likely be known as "the crappy Zeller." As such, it seems like Tyler, the older yet lesser brother of Indiana star Cody Zeller, might be tempting for the Suns, who have already selected the less-talented Griffin and Lopez brothers in the draft.


Zeller grew up in a remarkable family - his older brother, Luke, was a standout at Notre Dame and now plays for the Austin Toros in the D-League. His younger brother, Cody Zeller, is a bona fide star for Indiana and will almost certainly be a top-five pick in next year's draft. Incredibly, all three brothers stand at least 6'11", and were all named Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana. Cody and Luke were both valedictorians of their respective high school classes, and Tyler achieved a 3.99 GPA, good for third in his class.

As a high school player in Washington, IN, Tyler won two high school state championships at Washington High School- one in his freshman year and one in his senior year. Both featured fearsome Zeller-Zeller front courts. In his final game, Zeller scored 47 points in the state championship game, breaking a record for the most points in a championship game that had stood since 1970.


In college, Zeller was an economic force. In his junior and senior seasons, he used almost a quarter of his team's possessions, and still averaged over 120 points per 100 possessions. His PER steadily increased every year he was at UNC, just tickling 30 in his senior season. He shoots well (55% from the floor), and gets to the line a good amount (over 7 free throws attempted per 40, third amongst NCAA center). More remarkably, he doesn't miss often at the line, making over 80% of his free throws in his senior season.

Due to his mediocre wingspan (a mere 7 feet), he doesn't block that many shots - around 2 per 40 minutes. He's also a bit foul-prone, averaging nearly four per 40 minutes (and that's a huge improvement over his 6.8 fouls per forty in his freshman campaign).


What makes Zeller unique is his ability to run the floor - he stands a full seven feet, yet he can move very swiftly. In addition, he's very good at finishing while on the move - he converts nearly 80% of shots that he attempts in transition. He has sure hands and an excellent touch near the basket, making nearly 65% of shots that he attempts near the rim. He's a good shooter from range, too. Since he played a lot with John Henson, who likes to spread the floor, he wasn't asked to take many mid-range jumpers, but with his shooting form, he appears to have the ability to develop a good mid-range game in the NBA.

While not a shot-blocker, Zeller is a savvy fundamental defender. He plays good help defense, and moves his feet well to take charges. He also nabs a lot of rebounds. While not a flashy rebounder, he does everything right and averaged over 12 rebounds per forty minutes in his senior season (and, incredibly, 5 offensive rebounds per forty minutes).

The questions about Zeller stem from his athleticism and his age. He's not that long, not that strong, and not that athletic. Many scouts doubt his ability to defend above-the-rim centers in the NBA, due to his short wingspan and limited leaping ability. Similarly, the bulkier centers might be able to back him down due to his lack of strength. In addition, he's not likely to improve much beyond what we currently see - he's 22 years old.


If you're looking for a guy who can defend big men and free up Davis to defend stretch fours, you're not likely to find a lot of choice at the tenth pick (the other option is Meyers Leonard). His game would be a better complement to Anthony Davis than John Henson's, but Zeller isn't perceived to be as talented. If Davis is to be picked at the tenth spot, it might be a bit of a reach. The Hornets would likely be drafting for fit, not for the best player available.