As the 2013-2014 NBA Season finally approaches, it’s as good as time as ever to take at look at each player on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster. Up until opening night, the entire RDE staff will breakdown the entire Cavaliers roster. This profile looks at Tyler Zeller
Tale of the Tape:
Name: Tyler Zeller
Position: Center/Power Forward
School: North Carolina
Years Experience: 1
Years with Cavaliers: 1
Height: 7ft 0in
Contract: $1,633,440 in 2013-2014, team options for 2014-2015 at $1,703,760 and 2015-2016 at $2,616,975
The 2013-2014 NBA season is off to a rough start for Tyler Zeller. After spending the summer adding muscle and impressing Head Coach Mike Brown during the early stages of training camp, Zeller has spent the rest of camp on the sidelines. After straining his hip flexor during the Cavaliers’ team scrimmage at Baldwin-Wallace, Zeller had an emergency appendectomy on October 11. While the hip flexor was not considered serious, it will take Zeller some time to recover from the appendectomy and he will almost assuredly miss the start of the season.
While not an elite athlete Zeller offers several plus physical tools for a big man. At seven feet tall with a seven-foot wingspan, Zeller possesses the size of a true center. He is also extremely mobile and runs the floor extremely well for a big man. Zeller’s lack of athleticism shows up in his lack of explosion while leaping as he only had a max vertical of 34 inches at the 2012 NBA Draft Combine. Zeller also needs to add some strength and bulk as he is regularly pushed around my other big men, particularly on defense. He worked hard on his body over the summer to address this area, and hopefully the recovery from his appendectomy won’t cause him to lose too much of the muscle he has put on.
Zeller is known for both his high character and tremendous work ethic. His four years playing for an extremely high level program at North Carolina prepared him well for professional basketball, and he dealt with the ups and downs of his rookie season fairly well, especially considering how Anderson Varejao’s injuries thrust him into a larger role than the Cavaliers had planned. While he seemed to lack confidence was overwhelmed at times by the NBA game, overall he performed very well for a rookie in this area and his basketball I.Q. was evident this past Summer League where he excelled against players with similar NBA experience. For all of his perceived shortcomings among Cavalier fans, Zeller was voted to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, ahead of several players drafted before him, and earned an invitation to this summers’ Team USA Basketball Camp.
Zeller shows quite a bit of offensive potential due to his effort and skill level. While he had a low field goal percentage for a big man last year at just under 44 percent that can be attributed to several things. Coming out of college, Zeller was said to have a nice touch on his jump shot, which naturally pulls him away from the basket a bit. Unfortunately Zeller, only had an effective field goal percentage of .357 last season, as his midrange game abandoned him. However he did shoot a very respectable 76 percent on free throws last year, lending hope to the thought that his jumper will return as he becomes more comfortable with the NBA game. Zeller’s ability to run the floor also allows him to get easy baskets in transition as very few big men can keep up with him. While Zeller also showed some solid moves near the basket, opposing big men could just muscle him out of position due to his lack of strength. Zeller also has relatively good hands, which along with his mobility make him a threat in both the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game. As Zeller gains strength and confidence, he could become an offense threat both in transition and by creating space in the half court.
Like his offense, Zeller’s defense shows potential but is inhibited by his lack of strength. He showed a tremendous knack for drawing charges, which shows tremendous court awareness. He also tied Tristan Thompson for the team lead in blocks per game, although the number was just 0.9 BPG. Unfortunately opposing big men had their way with Zeller last season as they could easily muscle him out of the way. Opposing centers posted a PER of 18.9 against Zeller last season, This meant that against Zeller, the opposing centers in the NBA were on average roughly as effective as Joakim Noah, an All-Star last year. Zeller needs to get stronger so that he can hold his position against opponents. Too often last season it looked as if Zeller knew what he was supposed to do on defense but simply wasn’t strong enough to do it. If he can become strong enough to hold his position, Zeller should become a very solid defender.
How does Zeller fit in on the Cavaliers?
When you first consider that Tyler Zeller is the fifth big in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rotation after Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, and Anthony Bennett, it does not seem like he will be an important part of this year’s team. Given the injury histories of both Bynum and Varejao, it would be foolish to think that either one won’t miss a solid chunk of size this season. With Tristan Thompson measuring 6’9” and Anthony Bennett coming in at around 6’7, Zeller is the only remaining big with a guaranteed roster spot who has the height to play center regularly. While he may wind up as a very good backup center who plays in the league for ten years, the Cavaliers would gladly take that from a non-lottery pick.