Cody Zeller has struggled to remain healthy during the 2016-17 NBA regular season. The Charlotte Hornets need him back and healthy—ASAP.
From an outside perspective, one could argue that Charlotte Hornets big man Cody Zeller has bordered on bust status since being drafted No. 4 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. Over the course of his first three seasons, he averaged 7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 offensive rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 21.6 minutes per game.
If the 2016-17 NBA regular season has proven anything, however, it’s that value can be determined in a vast number of ways.
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Zeller is currently posting career-best averages of 10.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 offensive rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. He did so on 58.7 percent shooting from the field and is adding an additional 1.4 assists per contest.
Though his numbers aren’t necessarily star-caliber in their nature, Zeller has become one of the most reliable and efficient young big men in the NBA.
Unfortunately, the 24-year-old big man has missed 17 games during the 2016-17 NBA regular season. That’s been far more damaging to the Hornets’ postseason odds than the casual fan might expect.
According to Jeremias Engelmann of ESPN, the Hornets are 22-17 when Zeller plays and 2-15 when he doesn’t.
Those records translate to win percentages of .564 and .118—a shining example of Zeller’s value to the Hornets.
This may come as a surprise to some, but it’s consistent with Zeller recording a positive net rating in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. Thus far in 2016-17, he’s evolved from a valued contributor into a genuine difference maker.
That much is proven by the fact that Charlotte has net ratings of +7.8 with Zeller on the court and -4.2 without him.
That’s a difference of 12.0 points per 100 possessions.
With Zeller on the court, the Hornets score a team-high average of 108.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s a product of the spacing he provides with his midrange game, his lethality in the pick and roll, his athleticism in the open court, and his commitment on the offensive glass.
Without Zeller on the court, the Hornets have an offensive rating of 102.8—a sharp decline of 5.8 points per 100 possessions.
On the defensive end of the floor, Charlotte is allowing an average of 100.8 points per 100 possessions with Zeller on the court. Though not the most intimidating shot blocker, he’s an excellent team defender who maintains a high level of effort and intensity.
Without Zeller on the court, that number jumps to 106.9 points allowed per 100 possessions—a difference of 6.1 points per 100 possessions.
When Zeller is on the court, Charlotte performs with a different level of aggressiveness and intensity. He’s a tough competitor who plays with an edge to him and isn’t afraid of contact on either end of the floor.
For a Hornets team that’s already thin down low, losing the most reliable big man on the roster has come at a devastating cost.
If Zeller can remain healthy, then he’ll thoroughly justify the $56 million contract that will come into effect in 2017-18. He’s already the ultimate role player as it pertains to big men, and he still has room for growth and improvement at 24 years of age.
Perhaps more applicable to 2016-17, if Zeller can remain healthy, then the Hornets could climb back into the postseason picture.