Are there any similarities between the Charlotte Bobcats first round pick Cody Zeller and LaMarcus Aldridge?
General manager Rich Cho thinks so.
When asked which current NBA player he would compare Zeller’s game to, Cho likened him to the Portland Trail Blazers’ all-star forward.
“He’s a pretty unique player with his size,” said Cho, the Trail Blazers general manager in 2010. “He can run as well as any 7-footer out there, he can hit a perimeter shot; 18-20 feet and out beyond the arc. He has a very, very high basketball IQ.”
Aldridge, the second pick in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, was traded on draft night to the Trail Blazers for ex-Bobcat Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa. He is now one of the league’s premier power forwards, averaging 18.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and shooting 49% in seven seasons.
While Cho’s comparison may be surprising, it isn’t entirely unreasonable. Though widely the same player as a freshmen, Zeller made important strides in scoring and rebounding last season. His 16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 56.2% shooting are similar to Aldridge’s second year production at Texas (15.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 56.9%). Like Aldridge, Zeller moves extremely well for a seven-footer and possesses above-average athleticism. He’s at his best in transition where he converts 80% of his field goal attempts, according to Draft Express.
Zeller’s biggest progression must come through an area Aldridge is proficient in—perimeter shooting. Despite showing an improved shot in a Bobcats pre-draft workout, Zeller was a low volume jump shooter in college; attempting just 24 jump shots in 36 games as a sophomore. With just a streaky Byron Mullens to rely on in pick-and-pop situations, Bobcats guards had no reliable shooters to space the floor.
Aldridge has range to just below the three-point line. On closeouts, he’s adept at putting the ball on the floor and making a play at the basket or with his pullup jumper. The Bobcats hope Zeller can develop a similar style as a forward; his 9.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes are elite among the incoming draft class.
Defensively, there’s concern over which position Zeller can guard as a pro. He isn’t strong enough to defend legitimate centers and doesn’t have the foot speed to defend in space against hybrid forwards. Some evaluators expect Zeller to struggle against bigger opponents, as Aldridge was also projected to. Aldridge has since improved his upper body strength and maximized the use of his 7’4 wingspan on both sides of the ball. Zeller, who sports just a 6’10 wingspan, will have to work harder without similar physical gifts.
There’s a good chance Zeller may never become the player Aldridge has become. but his intangibles remain at the core of the Bobcats optimism. He seems to have a high floor as a talent; a reason the Bobcats chose him over flashier and riskier prospects. Effort has been a persistent issue over the past two seasons and the Bobcats are focused on establishing a winning, blue-collar culture.
The Bobcats expect Zeller to not only raise the bar for it, but be a big part of their success going forward.
Information from the Charlotte Observer and Draft Express was used in this article.