Cody Zeller returned to his first competitive play since the playoffs, starting for the Hornets in their third Summer League game, a rough 23-point loss, after missing the first couple games to attend his brother's wedding and for travel.
He earned plenty of criticism for struggling against the likes of Jeremy Tyler, and much of it was fair, whether it came from Rick Bonnell or Patrick Ewing.
Ewing said "He played like he just came off the plane. [...] He's going to have to grow up and grow up fast. With Josh not being there, I don't know who our starting [power forward] will be. We need for him to improve in all those areas he didn't do well in last season."
It's true: Zeller does make strides in his improvement if the Hornets are to take a step forward in the progress both in the coming season and for seasons after that.
But a recent NBA.com story on Zeller's first game struggles were highly critical not only of his performance, but of his demeanor.
Zeller, 21, didn't share the sense of urgency. In fact, he sounded a little above the fray for what goes on at Summer League, as if a gentleman of his breeding needn't overdo it this week.
He might want to rethink that stance.
"Summer league is no indication of how the team or individually how you're going to be in the season," Zeller said. "Everyone is trying to use it to get better at this time of year. But for me, I've got two or three months till the beginning of the season."
My goodness, it sounds like Zeller is clearly aloof and snooty that he's playing in the Summer League at all! It's like he doesn't even care! Look there, he points out how everyone tries to use this time to get better and then he excludes himself from the group!
Well it certainly seems that way if you take out the sentence that followed that Rick Bonnell included: "I'm trying to work on some things."
To leave out that sentence makes Zeller look like he's not working during Summer League as a time to improve whatsoever as he procrastinates.
And as for the debate of how well Summer League performance translates to regular season performance, this from ESPN's Kevin Pelton is a great look.
Zeller sounded like he had to handicap his game Monday so the hopefuls and wannabes playing with him could keep up. "It feels like I'm going back from making the adjustment from the NBA back to college now," he said. "I've got to take a second and slow down, and try to help guys along."
Oh, how callous of him to make such excuses!
"It's essentially a college game," Zeller said. "Sometimes guys aren't in the right spots. In the NBA details are everything." Then he said the part about the adjustment from the NBA back to college.
And my goodness, this Summer League squad looks so much like that. Their spacing is awful. Their passing is poor and does not set up their frontcourt players well. And so their offense struggles mightily. He does have to adjust back to a lower level of play with weaker supporting talent.
This isn't to say Zeller is bulletproof or destined for a path of greatness. He's not, and he's got more than enough room to be questioned. But it's a bit irresponsible to leave out relative context in his quotes just to support one's argument.
It's no secret Charlotte is not comfortable to start Cody Zeller right now, not that it surprised anyone to hear that news.
Zeller's transition last year was a slow one, and it's still got a ways to go. That's why the Hornets decided to sign Marvin Williams.
Last year, the presence of Al Jefferson and Josh McRoberts cushioned expectations for Zeller as they started and held a bulk of the offense's load. Meanwhile, Zeller was able to adjust to the NBA level at his own pace.
Zeller's first few months were pretty dreadful, but in last couple ones, he looked much more comfortable and found success in an offense that increasingly spaced the floor better. In the playoffs, defensive intensity ramped up against the vicious Miami defense and Zeller again struggled a bit.
As head coach Steve Clifford said, they need him to improve his strength to help him finish around the basket. He could also stand to develop a dependable offensive skill, because as he is right now, Zeller's offense is pretty limited. His jump shot is unreliable and without better strength, his driving ability and post game need a lot more work.
So it's no shocker they're not confident enough in Zeller right now to hand him the keys to a starting spot. Criticism of him is not unwarranted, and he definitely does need to make some steps forward. But one summer league game does not a cementing statement make.