With starting center Anderson Varejao sidelined because of a knee injury, rookie center Tyler Zeller has made the most of his extended minutes and thus far has been one of the most productive first year big men in the NBA.
Zeller was acquired by the Cavaliers in a draft day trade involving the Dallas Mavericks, who in return received Cleveland’s 24th pick (Jared Cunningham), 33rd pick (Bernard James), and their 34th pick (Jae Crowder). Overall, many Cav’s fans may have been upset on draft night after sending so much for seemingly so little at the time. For Cleveland, the rebuilding process after losing Lebron James to free agency a few years ago will be an uphill battle for seasons to come, leaving many to wonder why trade so many draft picks for a guy who won’t start and was labeled by many as more of an un-athletic finesse player who could potentially become a liability in the low post when match-up against guys who play tough and bang around in the paint.
Yea, so what. Maybe he is a finesse player, and would prefer his mid-range jumper over getting his cheekbone fractured in the low post with the likes of DeAndre Jordan. Either way, as of today, rookie or not, Zeller has one of the best mid-range games in the NBA when it comes to centers.
Out of the other eight rookie centers currently in the league, the former UNC standout is ranked number one or two in every major statistical category that matters from minutes to points per game. The only other rookie center who is producing as effectively as Zeller is Andre Drummond for the Detroit Pistons. For some odd reason the NBA and their online affiliate consider the number one overall pick from Kentucky, Anthony Davis, as a power forward. I guess lucky for Zeller. Among all rookies at every position, Tyler Zeller finds himself ranked in the top ten in most statistical categories. Zeller ranks 9th in scoring and player efficiency. The former Tar Heel star ranks 4th in rebounds, 7th in double-doubles, and 10th in minutes. All of these rankings have been with Zeller mostly coming off the bench until recently.
Drew Packham of NBA.com currently has Tyler Zeller ranked as the ninth most productive rookie overall in the league and had this to say recently on his Rookie Ladder column online.
-With Anderson Varejao still sidelined, Zeller continues to put up decent numbers to stick around the Ladder. The UNC product has scored in double digits in five of the last seven games and has done a serviceable job on the boards. In that span he’s averaged 7.6 boards to go along with his 11.5 points per game. These last few rungs are pretty fluid, so with Varejao nearing a return, Zeller needs to make the most of his minutes.
In Zeller’s first 29 NBA games he has been more than efficient and in his seven games starting in place of an injured Varejao, Zeller has been very productive. In Zeller’s first career start he scored 20 points in over 36 minutes while shooting 9 of 15 from the field in a loss against the Boston Celtics. Zeller is now averaging over 11 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, and is shooting a field goal percentage over .41% in the seven games he has started for the Cavaliers. His minutes per-game have also increased now that he is starting to over 34 minutes a game. Zeller recorded his second double-double of his young NBA career in a win over the Bucks on December 22nd with 11 points and ten rebounds.
The only negatives I can see in his game thus far are at the free throw line. Zeller is shooting just under 70% from the line, which isn’t that bad, but considering he has a great jump-shot for a 7-footer, his free-throw shooting should be a little better. Look for his free-throw percentage to definitely improve with more attempts and minutes on the court.
Looking to the future now for the Cavaliers, with the combination of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller, the future is starting to look a little brighter than it has in the last few years for Cleveland fans. Though for Zeller his recent success may end up being short lived when their starting center returns, at least the team(and the NBA) now knows the kid can play.
Though to me it would be crazy for the Cavaliers to do so, some have labeled Anderson Varejao as expendable and possible trade bait now with the emergence of Zeller. If Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavs, is really considering that, he should really take a step back and think about what Varejao has now meant to that city with the King now showing off his talents in South Beach.