Charlotte ended up surprising most people by selecting F/C Cody Zeller out of Indiana last night. There were numerous reports yesterday that suggested the team was interested in Zeller and that he was rising on draft boards, but when the announcement came at #4, it took most by surprise. Greg, Mathew and I react to all the different angles of the selection here.
1- What’s your grade of the #4 with Cody Zeller?
Spencer: C+: Charlotte decided to pass on Nerlens Noel, Alex Len & Ben McLemore to draft Zeller. That’s a little bit surprising and also hard to justify, but it was well documented that Cho was hot for Zeller leading up to the pick. I like Zeller in the sense that he’s likely not going to be a bust due to work ethic + character and he fills a serious need for the team. The ultimate question from here is whether or not he’ll be able to play center in the NBA on some sort of consistent basis, or will he have to develop into a true PF? I think the answer would be the latter of the two, but at 7-feet tall, there’s certainly room for debate.
Don’t read too much into this selection — it’s an advanced analytics selection + Rich Cho is an advanced analytics type of GM. Perfect marriage.
Greg: Outside of context, the pick is probably a B. Zeller’s a prospect that does make a lot of sense for the team. On offense, he brings a versatile game and a skill level that the Bobcats haven’t had in a while. While he’ll likely struggle if someone posts him up, he’s smart and athletic enough that he should improve the team defense. (Though replacing Mullens with most players would likely do the same.) He’ll also slot right into a starting lineup of Kemba/Henderson/MKG/Zeller/Biyombo — and if his face-up game and shooting are as polished as advertised, he’ll free up Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack to do what they do best.
It’s in context that things get trickier. See below.
Mathew: Incomplete. I’m humble enough (sometimes) to give whomever is making a decision the benefit of the doubt that they know what they’re doing and have a good reason for doing so and in turn resist from offering my initial opinion to the contrary. This is one of those times. Was Zeller my pick for the Bobcats? No. And when Noel and McLemore were still on the board? Definitely no. But I’m hoping he turns out to be the right pick. I would rather be wrong than (purportedly) Rich Cho.
2- Surprised? When Noel, Len and McLemore were all still on the board at #4, who did you think Charlotte was going to select?
Spencer: I was surprised. I thought the team was going to go with McLemore, as I had an inclination that he was Jordan’s guy. I also thought that McLemore was the best player on the board when Charlotte made the pick, so it seemed to make the most sense.
Greg: Yes. I assumed Noel would be the pick, both because he was regarded as the top player in the draft and, in theory, has the highest upside. Those are the types of players that Charlotte should be targeting right now. McLemore also would have been a good pick; while he’s less of a fit, it’s hard to deny his talent and potential.
If a front office is convinced of a player’s talent, they should ignore the pundits and take him. It’s very possible Zeller ends up being better than both of those players; in this draft, there really wasn’t a sure bet. But if you’re a fan of the Bobcats, you have a good feel for how this could go wrong. The pick feels very similar to when the team took D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez; it’s a rejection of conventional wisdom that could look very, very bad in retrospect.
I think that, no matter who it was, Bobcats fans just wanted a conservative pick. If you follow the consensus, and the player busts, you can argue there was a flaw with the group’s thinking, or luck, or fate, or the player, or whoever and whatever you want to blame. If you go out of a limb… it’s on your head if things go wrong. The team has taught its fans to be pessimistic about decisions like that.
Mathew: Very. I was leaning about 75/25 Noel, with Ben McLemore accounting for the other 25%. Now, four other teams in addition to the Bobcats passed on Noel so there has to be a reason. However, I would have rather had McLemore over Zeller if the Bobcats decided Noel was not the guy (I agree he’s not a fit next to Biyombo but you don’t pass up drafting a better prospect because you have a (likely inferior) player on the roster with a similar skill set). I thought the Zeller rumbles were a smokescreen from the get go. I guess I was wrong.
3- Cho vs. Jordan: With the rumblings about Cho & Jordan being at odds over who should be taken at #4 + reports that Cho was carrying the torch for Zeller — is this a good sign that the correct people are having the influence in front office?
Spencer: I don’t think there’s any question that this is a good sign for the franchise and who’s really making the basketball decisions. I think most media members that are close to the Charlotte front office believe Jordan still pulls all the strings with the basketball decisions, but this pick would go against that grain. Multiple reports came out yesterday that suggested Cho was pushing for Zeller at #4, but “getting resistance” from others in organization. Ultimately, picking Zeller says that Cho got his way and I don’t think I’m the only person who follows this franchise that believes Cho making the basketball decisions is the best for the team.
Greg: I never know how much to believe these scattered reports. To some extent, I think the CHO VS. JORDAN argument is overplayed since most people like to cast Jordan as a villain (and an incompetent).
If Cho wanted to make a pick as risky as Zeller, he honestly should get push-back from the organization. More voices are better than one, and that’s how large groups come to an informed decision. Unless/until the day when everything blows up, I just can’t worry too much about the office dynamics.
Mathew: Yes. Jordan owns the team and was the greatest basketball player of all-time. He’s due the right to the offer his opinion when it comes to player personnel decisions. But it should be just that – an opinion. And one of many that are taken into consideration by the front office when making decisions. Cho is the GM so the final call should come down to him. He was hired to do a job, so let him do it. The moves made by the likes of the 76ers newly minted GM Sam Hinkie illustrate what can be done when the reins are truly handed over and the trust and vision of the team are placed in the hands of the GM.