Bobcats select Indiana C Zeller with No. 4 pick
The Charlotte Bobcats had their choice of three big men with the No. 4 pick in the draft.
The Bobcats settled on Indiana's Cody Zeller, passing over Kentucky's Nerlens Noel and Maryland's Alex Len in the process. The thinking is the 7-foot, 240-pound Zeller gives them the versatility they want, someone who can play as a "stretch 4."
"He's a versatile big who can play inside and outside," Bobcats general manager Rich Cho said. "I think he's going to be really good for coach (Steve) Clifford's system. He's one of the best athletes in the draft and definitely one of the best bigs athleticism-wise to come out of the draft in many, many years. We're thrilled to have him."
It may take fans a little longer to warm up to Zeller.
The pick wasn't well received by Bobcats fans who had gathered Thursday night for a draft night party at the team's arena. A loud chorus of boos erupted after the selection was announced with some tearing their hats off the head in disgust and others throwing their arms up in disbelief.
"He might not have been high in the mock drafts, but people forget he was the No. 1 player in the preseason," Cho said.
Zeller said he was as surprised as anyone at the Barclays Center when the Bobcats called his name.
"My agent was messing me and didn't tell me anything, so I thought Charlotte had passed on me," Zeller said. "Literally when (commissioner) David Stern announced my name was when I found out."
Cho repeatedly said prior to the draft the Bobcats needed to find a big man. Charlotte was last in the league in defensive rebounding percentage last season and they haven't had a player who can score consistently from the low post.
In fact, guard Gerald Henderson is generally considered their best post player.
Zeller could change that.
He averaged 16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blockers per game as a sophomore for the Hoosiers last season. He finished as Indiana's career record holder in field goal percentage at 59.1 percent.
"If you look at our roster and some of the weaknesses we needed to address, Cody addresses a lot of those," Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins said. "Cody's versatility is going to stand out. The ability to play the four, to play the five. We're a running basketball team and I think he fits in with that part. He has a great work ethic and he fits our culture.
"He went to college for two years. Does he have a learning curve? Absolutely. But you can say that about any player that is being drafted."
The question with Zeller will be if he can bang with the league's big men.
Zeller said he wouldn't mind adding 15 to 20 pounds to his frame, providing it doesn't take away from his athleticism.
"That will be a big adjustment for me because the guys in the NBA are so much bigger and stronger," Zeller said.
But he's not overly concerned about it.
While Zeller said he's always had a smaller frame than his older NBA brothers Tyler and Luke, he feels his strength is underrated.
"I think people are surprised at how strong I am when they play against me," Zeller said. "I don't have the biggest frame but I feel like I make up for it with how hard I play."
This year marked the first time two Hoosiers were selected in the top four picks in the NBA draft; Victor Oladipo was selected second overall by Orlando.
Cho said the injuries to Noel and Len did not factor into the team's decision to draft Zeller.
The Bobcats have struggled to find a post player for years and missed out last year on drafting center Anthony Davis when New Orleans won the No. 1 pick in the NBA lottery.
Byron Mullens and Brendan Haywood split time as the team's starting center early last year, but second-year pro Bismack Biyombo also saw action near the end of the season.
Zeller started 72 games during his career at Indiana. A first-team All-Big Ten selection last season, Zeller ranked fourth in the conference and helped Indiana to a No. 1 ranking in the country during the latter portion of the season.
Zeller said he plans to bring a strong work ethic to the Bobcats.
"I'm going to come in and work the same whether it's the day before a game, the day of the game or the day after a game," Zeller said. "I know I have a lot to learn as a rookie but I'm going to come in with an open mind and learn from day one."
The Bobcats are trying to build a playoff contender after reaching the postseason only once in their first nine seasons. Charlotte is 28-120 over the past two years, by far the worst record in the league.