In our “What’s Next” series, a Right Down Euclid writer will look at each individual member of the Cleveland Cavaliers by analyzing what their future looks like and/or what’s the next step in their development. In this piece, staff writer Hiroki Witt looks at Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller, who struggled to find consistent minuets this season..
After a strong rookie season, Tyler Zeller sputtered in his sophomore year, struggling to get steady playing time at any point in the season. Zeller’s numbers this past season really weren’t a product of his play, but rather of which Cavaliers big men were healthy at a given point in the season. Despite being taken with the 17th pick in the 2012 draft, Zeller was often the odd man out in the big man rotation; early in the season he lost playing time to the failed project that was Andrew Bynum, late in the season to Spencer Hawes, and throughout the year to Anderson Varejao. As a result, Zeller never really found solid footing this season, despite actually improving on his rookie season (field goal percentage up from 43.8 percent to to 53.8 percent, TS% up from 48.6 percent to 58.1% percent and a PER up from 11.02 to 15.43). I believe Zeller has the potential to develop into a good NBA center, but in order to do that, he needs to play more. So, his future heavily depends on what the Cavs do with their big men, and, in the immediate future, what the Cavs do with Spencer Hawes.
If the Cavs re-sign Spencer Hawes
Zeller is in trouble if the Cavs re-sign Hawes. Zeller wouldn’t be getting much playing time already if he was behind a healthy Andy, so Zeller’s playng time is really dependent on what the Cavs do with Hawes. If Hawes is brought back, Zeller would struggle to play over 10 minutes a game assuming Varejao can stay on the floor. I don’t want to be so gloomy about his playing prospects, but for the short time when the Cavs were down to two healthy centers, Zeller and Henry Sims, the playing time at center was actually pretty close to an even split. That really speaks to how little faith the Cavs have in the guy they spent three draft picks to get.
Although he got a little bit more play time at the very end of the season with Hawes around, this was purely the result of the Cavs being out of playoff contention, Varejao being banged up and the Cavs working to get the bench guys some additional time.
If the Cavs don’t re-sign Hawes
Now the prospects for Zeller are a lot better. Given Varejao’s injury history, Zeller has a high chance of seeing extended minutes at some point in the season. Over the last six games of the season, when he got to play 21.8 MPG, he averaged 12.0 PPG and 6.8 RPG on 66 percent rom the field; as a guy that has a good mid-range game and rebounding skills, he has (to me) the potential to develop into a very good everyday player, I think Zeller really needs to get an opportunity to play for 30-plus minutes a game for a stretch of games. This way, the Cavs can really see what they are going to get from Zeller on a night-to-night basis, and whether he can be part of the Cavaliers long-term plans.