After numerous draft blunders, it seemed lady luck finally became enamored with the Charlotte Bobcats on draft night.
Losers of last month’s draft lottery, the Bobcats were gifted the opportunity to be winners Thursday. Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, and Ben McLemore were each available with the Bobcats fourth pick. Of all the scenarios that could have played out, the most unthinkable one occurred. The Bobcats had the chance to leave with a player, who at some point this year was considered the best talent in the draft.
The Bobcats selected Indiana forward Cody Zeller.
Zeller fits the new attitude coach Steve Clifford wants to establish in Charlotte. He competes hard, possesses a strong work ethic and is an intelligent player. The Bobcats ranked fifth in free throw attempts and Zeller averaged seven attempts as a sophomore. The team wants to run more, and he is excellent in the open floor.
With the addition of Zeller, Rich Cho says the Bobcats won’t have as much of a need for a power forward. Today, the team decided not to extend a qualifying offer of $4.5 million to free agent Byron Mullens. Mullens would have counted for a cap hold over $5 million had the Bobcats tendered him a qualifying offer.
Josh McRoberts, who started down the stretch last season, will be an unrestricted free agent. There’s a strong possibility Tyrus Thomas will waived through amnesty provision. Zeller could project as a starting forward at the conclusion of the offseason.
He wasn’t dominant in two years at Indiana. He doesn’t stand out as a rim protector or a great rebounder. Despite flaunting an improved jumper in last week’s Charlotte workout, Zeller only attempted 24 jump shots in 36 games last season. The Bobcats are hoping he can become a stretch forward, though Zeller only took two three-pointers during his college career. He’s not as physical as you would hope and routinely folded against tougher defenses.
The Bobcats need more than that right now.
If we’re to believe Cho is a big fan of Zeller, then he got his way. Did other teams see what Cho sees in Zeller? If the Bobcats passed, would he have gone fifth, sixth or anywhere in the top ten? Drafts are about getting the best talent available, and with Len, Noel and McLemore up for grabs, it’s questionable whether that happened Thursday night.
Zeller doesn’t strike me as an alpha dog, or a player teams can run the offense through. Will defenses scheme for him each game? The Bobcats need another talent who they could build with going forward. Zeller can be a solid piece, but wheres the skill that impacts or carries a team? While Zeller was the best player on his team, Indiana ran on the motor, elite athleticism and standout defensive ability of the draft’s second pick, Victor Oladipo.
Popularity isn’t always the best draft strategy. After all, it landed Kwame Brown with the Washington Wizards in 2001. Indiana Pacers executive Donnie Walsh still remembers fans clamoring for Indiana native Steve Alford, when Walsh selected Reggie Miller in 1987.
Cho was assistant general manager of Seattle in 2008 when they selected Russell Westbrook with ironically, the fourth pick. Westbrook was a surprise choice, but has been to as many all-star games combined as every player selected after him in the top ten.
If Cho makes that same lightning strike in Charlotte, he’s an absolute keeper as general manager. If not, the Bobcats can sandwich their latest draft error between Adam Morrison over Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay in 2006, and D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez in 2008.
The Bobcats still don’t jump off the paper with talent, but Zeller will have the chance to prove skeptics wrong. I strongly doubt the team’s decision and like some of the Bobcats faithful, expected more. Boos from the Bobcats draft party at Time Warner Cable Arena can still be heard loud and clear.