After a season that was hampered by various injuries, Cody Zeller returns to the Hornets looking to regain his form. He everaged 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 33 games last season. Because Dwight Howard started at center last season, Zeller was relegated to a bench role for all of his appearances. In the end, 2017-18 was a nightmare of a season for Zeller.
Zeller missed four of the first five games of last season with a knee bruise. It was an injury that foreshadowed what was to come for the former lottery pick. He suffered another injury to his knee against the Golden State Warriors last December. Despite the injury, he managed to still get one more dunk in before heading back to the locker room. After an MRI, it was determined that the former Indiana Hoosier tore his meniscus. He would end up missing 27 more games.
This season, Zeller returns from his knee injuries and is favored to be the starting center on opening night for the Hornets. In the preseason, he has shown his usual skill set of being great in the pick and roll, finishing around the basket and the usual mid-range jump shot. However, the former Indiana standout has added a three point shot to his repertoire.
He hasn’t shot many threes in the preseason, but Zeller has shot them confidently in practice and in the games. If he were to consistently make shots from beyond the arc, the floor spacing would dramatically improve and it would provide a different dimension for the offense. However, all of his work to improve his game can’t be shown on the court if he isn’t available.
Zeller has missed 94 games over the last four seasons including the 49 he missed in 2017-18. The Hornets record in the games he’s missed is 35-59. Without Zeller in the lineup, it is clear that the Hornets have struggled to win games historically. The depth chart behind him at center include Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangomez. While they both have a lot of experience, Zeller has the edge over the other two and would be hard to replace.
A center that is solid on both ends in the pick and roll and is capable of taking and making three pointers can exist in the current NBA. While he has worked hard to improve in these areas, Zeller will need to pick up his work on the defensive end. However, offensively he and Nicolas Batum have been great in pick and roll actions over the last few seasons. This connection will be seen a lot as long as the two of them are available to play.
Overall, this season is a big one for Cody Zeller. He has a chance to get back to his 2016-17 form where he averaged career highs in almost every statistical category. With Dwight Howard no longer on the team, the starting center job is his to lose. While there is good competition behind him, expect Zeller to be the opening night starter at the center position.