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Cody Zeller’s monumental impact on the Hornets’ starting lineup

Why Charlotte’s center position is looking a whole lot better now

Indiana Pacers v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Cody Zeller just recently returned to the floor after going down with a fractured hand early on in the season. He ended up missing 13 games, but returned to the starting lineup in the last couple of games. While he was out, veteran Bismack Biyombo was the interim starting center for the Hornets. During that time period, while the Hornets did have a decent record, it was very clear that one of the main issues was Biyombo’s play at the five. His lack of awareness on defense, rebounding struggles, and the absence of any offensive game seriously limited how the Hornets were able to with him on the floor.

The Hornets just finished up a two-game series against the Indiana Pacers and premiere big-man Domantas Sabonis. With Zeller back he got the assignment guarding Indiana’s All-Star big, but Biyombo did end up matching up with him a bit as well. Zeller ended up guarding Sabonis for 11:59 worth of game-time, while Biyombo covered him for only 3:31.

In the three and a half minutes Biyombo was guarding Sabonis he got up three shots, shooting 2/3 with five points. Meanwhile, in the nearly twelve minutes of game time Zeller was on Sabonis, he only got up four shots, shooting 2/4 with seven points. That right there’s enough of a difference to show Zeller’s improvement over Biyombo, but let’s look at the overall difference in terms of impact on the floor.

Obviously Zeller has seen the floor a lot less than Biyombo this season due to injury, but he’s still played a lot of minutes with the same starting lineup Biyombo did - Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and PJ Washington. Biyombo has played 183 minutes with that squad, while Zeller’s played only 41 minutes. Regardless, the difference in offensive and defensive rating numbers are so shocking that the amount of minutes is almost irrelevant.

With Biyombo inserted into that starting lineup, the Hornets have an offensive rating of 101.0 and a defensive rating of 109.7.While the defense isn’t the worst, that offensive rating is horrendous. For context, there are 15 lineups throughout the league that have played at least 100 minutes together this season. An offensive rating of 101.0 ranks second worst in the league out of all these lineups.

However, when Zeller is thrown into the lineup instead of Biyombo, the offensive rating skyrockets to 123.4, and the defensive rating also improves, falling to 103.8. Not only does the defense slightly improve, but the offense is drastically better with Zeller on the floor. Out of those same lineups with 100 or more minutes played, the number one team has an offensive rating of 123.2.

Hornets fans have spent the whole season desperately hoping the team would trade for a center, when in reality they had one sitting on the bench the whole time. While Zeller may not hold the keys to the future in Charlotte, he’s certainly a major improvement over Biyombo. Maybe Mitch Kupchak can make a trade for a quality backup center, or at least give PJ Washington some of the backup center minutes over Biyombo from now on. Look forward to getting killed in the paint a lot less from here on out, Charlotte… hopefully.