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What does it mean to be a tenacinator?
Well, there's no definition in the dictionary for it, so we may have to look to the root word, tenacity, for some answers.
"The quality of being able to grip something firmly, of being very determined, of being persistent."
While that definition applies to numerous players on the Charlotte Hornets, it is a perfect descriptor for what Cody Zeller has become.
Coming out of Indiana in 2013, Zeller was widely regarded as an athletic but skilled player. Sure, he can run the floor with the quickest guards in the league and sports a vertical leap rivalling even the springiest of NBA players, but most people agreed his role in the NBA would be largely determined by his ability to make smart plays and hit open jumpers.
Zeller is a smart player. He's averaging 2.3 assists per 36 minutes on just 79.5 touches per 36 minutes, the majority of which come at the elbow, much like Josh McRoberts last season. Zeller also turns the ball over just 1.5 times per 36 minutes — a great indicator of how smart he is with the ball — and has only turned the ball over three or more times in just five games.
However, early in his career, his shot wasn't falling. He was often out of place on defense. He would shy away from a battle in the paint and let an opposing rebounder grab the ball without a fight. Zeller wasn't a bad player by any means, but the first half of his rookie year let even the most optimistic of fans see that success wouldn't come easy for Zeller. He'd have to work tirelessly to pick up the intricacies of the NBA game. He'd have to capitalize on his athleticism by playing aggressively.
And he's still not there yet.
This month, Zeller's taken 14 jump shots — of which he's hit only one — and attempted eight layups or dunks (of which he made four). The real problem? He's only taken six free throws in February despite playing nearly 130 minutes. That's just 0.046 free throws per minute, well below his season average of 0.11. If Zeller's to continue to grow, he's going to need to get close to the basket, and make layups or draw fouls. Admittedly, this may not be the easiest task with Al Jefferson requiring so much space in the paint.
Interestingly, January was Zeller's best month of the season. He averaged 12 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes while shooting 49.5 percent from the field. Those are numbers the Hornets would like to see on a consistent basis from Zeller.
It's hard to say where Zeller's ceiling is. He's had moments of sheer greatness this season, but he's also had several very poor games as well. The Hornets were 10-4 in January in large part because of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's high level play on defense, Kemba Walker's heroics, Bismack Biyombo's stellar rim protection, and Zeller quietly filling whatever holes there were and coming up big when needed.
The sky is the limit for Zeller. It's possible he's an All-Star in the future, although there'd need to be considerable growth from both a personal and team standpoint for that to happen. However, what's certain is that he is a good player and although he won't win games on his own, his absence is felt whenever he's not playing.
The level of intensity and relentlessness that Zeller's capable of playing with? That's what makes him a tenacinator.