I have the perfect pump up video for Cody Zeller before each playoff game.
All the motivation, knowledge and hype he needs is included in this great Seattle Supersonics intro which contains an incredibly seamless and spine-tingling segue from Deep Purple's "Knocking at Your Back Door" to Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell".
At the average speed of 4.43 miles per hour, per SportVU data at nba.com, Zeller has been the fastest center in the league this season. Matter of fact, during his three years in the league only four front-court players have had a higher average speed in a particular season than the former Hoosier, legitimately making him the fastest big in the league today.
Running like hell at the height of 7 feet is Cody Zeller's main strength.
Even though he's improved at certain aspects of the game, Zeller remains a rather unspectacular player when judged by traditional counting statistics.
After a preseason of a couple of made threes, the Indiana native has posted career lows in shooting percentage outside of ten feet, per Basketball Reference.
Thanks to the finally scrapped experiment of playing The Big Handsome at power forward he has been able to relocate his shot attempts to more efficient rim runs. Zeller has taken only 13.8% of his attempts between 16 feet and the 3-point line, almost thrice as less as during the 2014-15 season.
He still gets knocked down an awful lot though when attacking the basket. Zeller's 61.0% precision at the rim, albeit an improvement from league average-like rates in previous years, is so-so for primarily a pick-and-roll big man.
Yet it's still an improvement which has come due to a more suitable role on offense. With the floor spread out, the third year big man can score off pick-and-roll wizardry created by Nicolas Batum. As a player who can reliably only score in motion that extra space means a lot.
Said floor space extends to all 94 feet. Match Zeller up with a center who's unable or unwilling to keep up with him and that center will have to huff and puff through 100% effort sequences of diligent defense followed by a full court sprint.
Notice how two of those runs force the opposing power forward to suck in, pick Zeller up in transition and thus free Marvin Williams up to attack against a slouching Greg Monroe.
It's no coincidence either that those plays start off on the defensive end.
Again, the counting stats don't do the 7-footer any favors here. Zeller's short wingspan and lack of strength plus weight prevents him from being a high number rebounder or shot blocker.
He makes up for it though with effort, mobility and positioning. Cody Zeller has remained above league average in rim protection stats in his new starting center role. The Charlotte Hornets also haven't lost their rebounding edge with Zeller at center as the team is about to three-peat in the defensive rebounding percentage category.
Lineups with the not so big starting duo of Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller get 79.1% of the available defensive rebounds, a tad below the team's league-leading 79.7% mark.
Both are knowledgeable and know the value of boxing out their man in order for a teammate to scoop up the rebound. Zeller's capable, per example, of frustrating Andre Drummond into two games with both points and rebounds in single digits.
Zeller's production can come and go as it is with players who mostly depend on others for scoring and predicate their success on working their butt off.
Thus you can expect his minutes to somewhat fluctuate based on his own production as it has happened during the last month with Al Jefferson and Spencer Hawes fully back in the rotation.
I would outline two keys for Cody Zeller so he himself could spend more time on the court and obviously also help his team.
Pick-and-roll defense will be huge as coach Steve Clifford often has Zeller coming up to the level of the screen, if not blitz altogether.
With Hornets starters two through five basically capable of switching in every situation, this strategy allows the team to fully spread out, showcase its flexibility and force the opposition to switch the side of the court as the precious shot clock seconds expire.
It's also an area which possibly can turn into a place for a coaching chess match, depending on the opponent the Hornets get. The opposition might try to lure Zeller out in pick-and-rolls on purpose. If your big is capable of making the pass on the roll, you might beat Charlotte with threes on such 4-on-3 situations:
Who knows, perhaps, coach Clifford tones it back himself. For one, Jeff Teague has previously struggled against the treatment of guards going under pick-and-roll screens. Moreover, it might be dangerous to get Paul Millsap and Al Horford such opportunities as in the video above.
Nevertheless, Zeller is the man with whom it all starts as the team depends on him staying in front of the ball handler and sometimes also instantly retreating back to his man.
Moreover, all three possible opponents have point guards capable of turning the corner on a big who has stepped out to the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Charlotte's other options at center in Al Jefferson and Spencer Hawes can be exploited by speedier bigs (Atlanta and Boston in particular have the tools to take them out of their comfort zone). It will then be on Zeller to hold down the fort on defense as the team's main defensive center.
In addition (like we already covered), Zeller just has to run like hell. With Charlotte's playoff opponent still to be determined we can't know which specific players he'll face but there certainly are guys in the mix who aren't on Zeller's level in regards to athleticism.
If it's Boston and the Celtics are starting Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson, he should try to outsprint them down the court any time there's a chance. He wouldn't have the same advantage against Boston's bench bigs but there certainly is one against the usual starters.
Playing against Hassan Whiteside and Miami would be a chore which necessitates a lot effort. Working class box outs (additional potential of annoying him with effort) would be required. Athleticism would be an advantage against Al Horford though few can out-savvy the man.
But the bottom line is the fact that Zeller's effort and mobility make him the player he is.