UNC in the NBA: Tyler Zeller scores season-high in Brooklyn defeat

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Tyler Zeller
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Tyler Zeller /

Former North Carolina big man scores season-high in Nets’ loss

Brooklyn Nets center Tyler Zeller came off the bench on Tuesday night to score a team-high 21 points in what turned out to be a lopsided home victory for the Denver Nuggets.

The former North Carolina big man recorded season-highs in points, rebounds, made and attempted shots and free throws, and minutes played.

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His 21 points came on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. He finished the game with five rebounds, one block and one steal in 28 minutes of play.

Former Michigan Wolverines wing Caris LeVert added 13 points and third-year point guard D’Angelo Russell scored a season-low 12 points for the 4-7 Nets. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic scored a career-best 41 points en route to his team’s sixth overall victory, and fourth at the Pepsi Center.

The game’s outcome was not as close as the eight point differential would suggest. The Nuggets entered the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead before calling off the dogs and relinquishing a portion of their massive cushion.

Zeller, the 2012 ACC Player of the Year, appears to be picking up some momentum this season, having scored nine, 12 and 21 points in his last three games, respectively.

After an uneventful two weeks to begin the 2017-18 season, Zeller is averaging 14 points, three rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game over the past week. During that span, he’s hitting better than 70 percent of his shots from the floor. He’s also played double-digit minutes in five of his last six games, including 17 or more minutes in four consecutive contests.

When given starter’s minutes, or at least substantial playing time off the bench, Zeller’s overall output greatly increases. Given the Nets’ overall direction and current lack of star-power, it seems reasonable for head coach Kenny Atkinson to give the fifth-year big man a larger role with the team.

Next: Danny Green scores season-high against Clippers

Zeller and the Nets travel to Portland on Friday night to take on the 6-5 Trailblazers.