Weight: 240 lbs.
If we learned anything from last season’s Hornets team, it’s that Cody Zeller was the team’s most important player. While Kemba Walker was, and still is the best overall player, Zeller was irreplaceable. All you have to do is look at the win/loss record with and without Cody Zeller active.
The Hornets were 33-29 in games with Cody Zeller on the floor, and a cringing 3-17 with him injured. 3….and….17. That’s what cost the Hornets a playoff spot last season, they simply could not win without Cody in the lineup. Let’s take a look on what to expect from Cody Zeller this season, and how the Hornets can avoid losing games if, or when he were to get injured again.
Reasons for Optimism:
You could make the argument that Cody Zeller is one of the most underrated, and under-appreciated players in the NBA. He is not a superstar player, but he does a lot of the little things very well. For a big man, Cody is a dominant force in transition. Last season he was 5th in the NBA (of those with at least 50 opportunities) scoring 1.50 points per possession. He is an excellent pick & roll player with Kemba Walker, which is why their W/L record went down the tube when he was injured.
Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype pointed out that Zeller has mastered the dribble handoff playing alongside Kemba Walker. Here is one instance of Zeller making a high IQ play in order to get Kemba a good shot opportunity. We can expect to see more of this play in 2017-2018:
Take a look at this play. When Zeller turns around to DHO with Kemba, he sees that IT is denying the DHO to the middle. pic.twitter.com/cFkFaRwgDe
— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) August 30, 2017
Reasons for Pessimism:
The addition of Dwight Howard will have an impact on Cody Zeller this season. While there will be some positives, one glaring negative aspect of the trade is that Dwight and Cody won’t be able to play together, so one will have to sacrifice playing time. And at this point it seems to be Cody as all signs point to Dwight Howard being the opening day starter.
Zeller will still get his fair share of playing time, as he should. He plays well alongside Kemba Walker and when it’s crunch time in the 4th quarter, he is not as big of a liability at the free throw line like Dwight Howard is.
A reason to be pessimistic about Cody Zeller is his prone to injuries. It’s still unclear how big of an impact Dwight Howard will have. Dwight’s career has been a train-wreck since leaving the Magic, and his play has declined each season. If Zeller cannot stay healthy, that places a lot of the burden on Dwight Howard’s shoulders. That’s not an ideal situation for Steve Clifford.
Number to know:
The Charlotte Hornets were 3-17 without Cody Zeller last season, and thirteen of those seventeen losses were by single digits. Had Cody been healthy, it’s safe to assume a few of those games would have resulted in a Hornets victory instead.
2017-’18 Player Forecast:
Cody Zeller will begin the season as the backup center behind Dwight Howard, but nothing is set in stone. Injuries or quality of play may change things. Nonetheless, Zeller will still get a lot of playing time and is just as important to the team as he was last season.
With Cody being the 6th man, could he be in the running for 6th man of the year? I would say no. I expect Zeller’s stats to dip with Dwight Howard likely to average more rebounds and points, but a lot of Zeller’s impact isn’t seen in the stats book. His P&R game and ability to run in transition is valuable. His hustle plays also give the Hornets a boost, as 40.7% of his rebounds last year were contested.
If the Charlotte Hornets are a playoff team this year, a big reason will likely be linked to the impact of Cody Zeller.