Cody Zeller’s 2019-2020 season comes down to three words: Don’t get injured!
After being drafted fourth overall in 2013 the Hornets center has missed at least 20 games in four of his six NBA seasons. The last two years have been particularly challenging as he’s missed exactly half of the Hornets games. When healthy he’s a perfectly capable player who’s willing to do what it takes to help his team win. The former Indiana Hoosier will probably continue to get consistent minutes doing what he does best - setting solid screens, boxing out, dunking, and playing above-average defense.
Zeller is an efficient though low-volume scorer. Over the last four years he has averaged 9.2 points and shot 55 percent from the field, making him one of just 14 NBA players to reach those thresholds. He’ll never be the focal point of the offense but he’s smart and opportunistic in the paint. Looking into this season, the loss of Kemba Walker will likely have a negative impact on Zeller’s offensive game. Terry Rozier is nowhere near the floor stretcher or the setup man that Walker was which will probably translate into fewer easy looks for the Hornets big men in general.
Cody’s an effective defender despite not being a traditional rim protector. He’s averaged fewer than one block per game in each of six seasons but there’s more to defense than just swatting shots. From an advanced stats perspective, his team-leading 1.7 Defensive Box Plus/Minus tied for 41st in the league last year (min. 1,200 minutes played) and better than players like Clint Capela, Serge Ibaka, and Marcus Smart. He doesn’t control the boards like a seven footer should, but he is coming off a career-high 6.8 rebounds per game last year.
So where does Cody Zeller fit into Charlotte’s rebuild plan? At 27 he isn’t part of the team’s youth movement and will probably cede some of the 25 minutes per game he averaged last year to Willy Hernangomez as the team looks to develop the fourth-year Spaniard. That said, Zeller will still play an important role this year as a consistent contributor on a team needing veteran leadership. Assuming, of course, that he can just stay healthy.