To bolster their depth at center, the Pelicans signed veteran big Cody Zeller to a one-year deal earlier this summer. Zeller appeared in just 15 regular season games for the Heat last season before playing just over eight minutes a game during Miami’s finals run. If they call his number, what can Zeller provide New Orleans?
Offense is the main area where the 30-year-old vet adds value as a usable interior scorer, screener and offensive rebounder. Zeller is an efficient scorer and has been over his entire career; he’s posted a true shooting percentage above league average every single season since 2016. He struggled in the playoffs last year, though, scoring just 2.2 points per game with his turnovers doubling assists.
Zeller’s complementary skills are his best asset as he works his way open playing with other scorers and playmakers. He’s a solid interior scorer with impressive touch, setting up easy push shots from floater range to mitigate his athletic limitations at this point in his career. Zeller can function as a post scorer against bench lineups or against switches in a pinch as well.
For a Pelicans’ offense predicated on motion, screening and cutting, Zeller’s handling and screening could be his most projectable skill this year. He’s adept at creating little creases with his screening to spring shooters and drivers open, maneuvering around the high post area with his handle to pick the best spot. Though not an advanced passer, Zeller can make basic reads to cutters and shooters operating from the mid-post area.
Defense is the main limiting factor for Zeller at this point in his career as he lacks the mobility to hang with the many athletic marvels he will face on a nightly basis. While defenses can park Zeller at the rim in deep drop, he’ll struggle to play on the perimeter and guard high up in the pick-and-roll and won’t offer any resistance on switches or hedge-type coverages.
As a backup big, Zeller might be able to bang with reserve post scorers during the regular season, but the lack of verticality and strength at this point has zapped much if not all of the rim protection value he once held.
To open the season, Zeller likely won’t feature much in the Pelicans’ rotation with Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance ahead of him at the center spot. If Zeller has to play due to injuries or any other circumstances, New Orleans can hopefully lean on his off-ball offensive skills to boost the Pelicans’ other offensive players.
Written by contributor Ben Pfeifer.
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