Cody Zeller's role as a rookie was much different than any other top lottery picks the Bobcats ever had. Whereas players like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and more were thrust into the starting lineup from the get-go, Zeller started his season firmly planted in a reserve role behind Josh McRoberts, and rightfully so.
Given a much more conservative role behind a more talented and experienced player, Zeller had few expectations on his shoulders and instead had more leeway to find his niche and adjust to the NBA transition.
However, it certainly wasn't a smooth transition.
Zeller had a particularly rough first few months, looking uncomfortable in the flow of the Bobcats' offense and shooting poorly, well below 40 percent from the field. He was tenacious and frenetic, an energetic rebounder but just not effective.
The Bobcats' offense gradually improved over the course of the season, though, and Zeller's play rose with them. Charlotte's more balanced offense from inside and out gave Zeller more space to work with, which resulted in much better scoring numbers, capping off with 55.8 percent shooting in March.
It was a relief to see Zeller improve, though there are still considerable qualms over his future.
For a player the Bobcats expect to be a stretch 4, Zeller's jump shot just wasn't there. He made 27.8 percent of his jump shots, including 27.3 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point line.
But even beyond that, his success at the rim is a concern. Making 56.3 percent of his attempts at the rim pales in comparison to Josh McRoberts (63.2 percent), which is a bit disconcerting given Zeller's terrific size and athleticism.
Defensively, Zeller was fine. He's a pretty talented pick-and-roll defender -- quick enough to leave his man to trap the ballhandler and still recover on the play. His strength in the post is still an issue, but he's an energetic defender. Foul trouble was an issue early on, but he controlled that better as the season went on.
He was not completely without offense, of course. Without a jump shot to rely on, as much as he tried to, Zeller went to the rim to get his points, which was the best way to get an offensive impact from him. Zeller moves well off the ball in the pick and roll and can maneuver fairly well getting to the hoop with the ball, though you shouldn't expect him to take defenders off the dribble. He just needs to get stronger to finish around the restricted area. I also want to point out that Zeller was a pretty decent offensive rebounder, wrangling an estimated 9.4 percent of offensive rebounds available when he was on the floor, the third-best in this regard on the team behind Jeff Adrien and Bismack Biyombo and ahead of Kidd-Gilchrist.
Zeller needs to bulk up to improve his strength when going to the rack. With his size and agility, Zeller could be a much better offensive threat if he can finish through contact among the trees in the paint. It would help on defense, too, of course.
The other major weakness that he needs to focus on is his jump shooting. I don't think I need to elaborate upon that. Thankfully he doesn't have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jump shot form so with repetition to solidify muscle memory, he can definitely improve his shooting.