Cody Zeller: Phoenix Suns 2013 NBA Draft profile


Zeller’s biggest strength is his combination of size and athleticism. Despite being seven feet tall, he runs the floor with the grace and speed of a guard. Most NBA players with Zeller’s height are slow and don’t get out in the transition very well, but Zeller decisively breaks that mold. This season at Indiana, he consistently got himself easy buckets by beating opponents down the floor.

Outside of his size and speed, Zeller’s most notable strength is his athleticism. Earlier this month, he posted the one of the highest marks at the NBA Draft Combine for standing vertical leap (no running start.) His mark impressed scouts because as a big man who plays in the paint, Zeller does not have the option to take steps before elevating. The fact that he can get up that high from a stance will aid him as a rebounder and scorer.

Zeller’s final strength is his scoring ability. He can put the ball in the bucket in a variety of ways from any angle around the hoop. Despite his age, he already has a polished post game and a variety of back-to-the-basket moves. He also uses his agility to his advantage in the paint, blowing past defenders off the dribble.

Question marks

Though he’s not nearly as skinny as Nerlens Noel, Zeller is still severely lacking in the weight department. At 7’0” and only 230 pounds, I shudder to think what might happen if he were forced to guard an NBA big man like Zach Randolph. He will have to add a good deal of man strength if he hopes to bang down low at the next level.

Despite his excellent vertical leap, Zeller gets his shot blocked more that you might expect. This is partly due to his lack of strength, but also due to his short reach (8’10”). Getting a shot off in inside is as much about technique and timing as it is size and strength in the NBA. Zeller will have to develop that part of his game.

In addition to a shorter reach, Zeller also has relatively small hands. This leads to a large number of turnovers. Passes in the NBA come quicker than they do in college. Zeller will have to make adjustments there.

Perhaps the biggest question mark around Zeller is his rebounding ability. Though his totals improved significantly in his sophomore year, he is still not an elite rebounder. That will obviously be one of the areas the team which drafts him will expect Zeller to contribute, but he may not be able to board effectively in the NBA. Consider Nikola Vucevic, a similar draft prospect from a few seasons ago. Vucevic averaged 10.3 rebounds per game in is final college season. That production translated to the NBA. Zeller only averages 8.1 rebounds per game and does not have Vucevic’s girth. Te likelihood of Zeller’s rebound production increasing to double-digits in the NBA seems very small.

At this point, it doesn’t seem like Zeller’s offensive game, which is predicated on interior speed and post ups, will translate to the NBA. That is why he has spent this pre-draft period trying to show NBA scouts that he can transition from center to power forward. Which brings us to…


How high or low Zeller goes in the draft will have a lot to do with how likely scouts believe he is to make a successful transition to power forward. At this point in his career, Zeller has a good handle for a seven-footer, but his dribbling ability is not good enough to be a perimeter-oriented stretch-4 in the NBA. Likewise, Zeller didn’t do much jump shooting in his two years at Indiana. He does have excellent form and is a good free throw shooter, so the potential is there. But are NBA teams going to spend a Top-10 pick on that potential? That remains to be seen. The good news for Zeller is that he has the attributes (size, speed, IQ) that can’t be taught, so from that perspective, the hardest part of developing him into a power forward has already been done.

How would he fit with the Suns?

The place Zeller would fit in best is as a pick and roll partner for Goran Dragic. His speed and agility in the paint would make him a lethal scorer as a roll man. His and Dragic’s combined speed would make them a nightmare to defend as tandem for just about every team save Memphis. Defensively, he wouldn’t really improve the Suns at all. He isn’t an outstanding shot blocker or post defender. He does work incredibly hard, but he is far from a defensive anchor.

Zeller’s lack of size and presence ultimately make him not a great option for the Suns. While he does have offensive talent, there’s no guarantee that it will translate to the NBA. Not to mention that taking him at #5 would be a massive reach. To put themselves in a position to draft Zeller, the Suns might have to package an asset or two for a late round lottery pick, like Dallas’ #13 selection.

And 1 … A second-rounder to consider

One player the Suns could take a chance on in the second round is Colorado’s Andre Roberson. Currently rated #47 in Chad Ford’s Top 100, Roberson is an incredibly athletic rebounder who reminds me in some ways of Kenneth Faried. Despite being listed at only 6’7”, Roberson was the second-leading rebounder in college basketball this season (11.3 per game.) He doesn’t have a polished offensive game by any means, but he is dangerous around the hoop and above the rim. The Suns could use an athletic big man to run the floor and pull down boards in an up-tempo system, and Roberson could definitely be that guy. Complete players aren’t normally found in the second round, but in Roberson, the Suns could get a guy with one elite skill (rebounding) which is a big need for this team.

Tags: Draft Draft Profile Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Analysis

  • Forever is2long

    I definitely agree Ryan, taking Zeller at 5 would be a huge reach. His body of work against athletic bigs in the Big Ten was not very impressive. Personally I prefer Dieng (Louisville) over Zeller for the Suns.

  • Shawn

    In the words of the great Michael Scott:

    “NOOO, GOD! NO. GOD. PLEASE. NO. NO!!! NO!!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  • Ty-Sun

    Zeller impresses me as the kind of player who will probably develop into a great backup PF/C in the NBA but that’s about it. But that’s not what the Suns need, especially with the 5th pick in the draft.

  • Forever is2long

    Let’s see our last 2 lotteries have produced Morris and Marshall. I no longer eat MMs because of those two guys. Please do not add Zeller to this woeful list. I would certainly take Len over Zeller any day of the week and len didn’t perform at the combine.

  • hawki

    @ Forever

    I always preferred Almond Joy’s with an occasional Kit-Kat bar.

  • Forever is2long

    Hawk, You are my man because I could kill an Almond Joy.

  • Scott

    I agree that Zeller is not the man to take with the #5. In a normal draft, Zeller would probably be taken around #20. However … it’s hard to see who in this draft really deserves to be taken with the #5.

    Zeller has wing-sized hands and forward-sized reach. He has good scoring aggression, takes defense seriously, runs the floor as fast as a guard, and has a high IQ.

    I expect him to shoot well. It’s almost axiomatic for guys with high IQ to shoot and pass well. I would be shocked if he doesn’t develop a decent 3 pt shot within a year. His handle will probably only be so-so, though, and that’s because he’s 7 feet tall.

    In college his size pretty much trapped him a center, and they didn’t want him taking jump shots. In the NBA I think he’d be a shooter, facilitator, and target for lobs in transition and on cuts. I don’t see him being so much of a power P&R guy, but more of a pick and pop guy who can occasionally run in for the jam.

    So I’d pencil him in as a more athletic Scola, not as an Amare.

  • Scott

    My guess is that Zeller will be a 17 PER guy.

  • Suns Fan In Portland

    I just noticed several articles stating the Rockets are shopping Thomas Robinson to clear more salary:

    ” reported that the Rockets were planning to trade away 2012′s No. 5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, to a team with salary-cap space to create the requisite room to offer a max contract to Howard. ”

    Another salary deal with the Rocketses?

  • Scott

    I imagine Houston’s trade to clear space won’t happen till the free agency period after the draft, right?

  • bill.thomas

    We probably don’t need to corner the market on forwards who lack 1 or more physical attributes to play their position, are sorely lacking psychologically, or lack playing skills. We already have quite a few. Between Zeller and Robinson, I would be much more interested in picking up Robinson on the cheap.

  • foreveris2long

    IMO we do not need another undersized power forward who has not shown a low post game and is not very good defending the low post. I say no on Zeller and T.Robinson. T.Rob has been on the market twice in his rookie campaign, so that is our first clue he cannot help us. We badly need an athletic 4 who likes to play on the low block offensively. What are we the Rockets developmental team? Let them dump their trash elsewhere. Ever since we gave them that 1st round pick and Dragic the Suns have been listed first in BIG BOLD letters in their directory.

  • JD

    Suns need to get T Rob and keep the Morris twins. Then unretire Danny Manning, and trade for Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Nick Collison, X Henry, Mario Chalmers, and Paul Pierce. We’ll rename the team “Phoenix Jayhawks.”

  • ssholla

    T Rob would be better than the Morris twins, so I hope that McDonough at least looks into what they want for him. I don’t think I would give up much, but it’s worth looking into.
    I personally like Zeller and think with a good defensive center, he would be a pretty darn good PF. He needs to build up his lower body strength and weight, without losing his athleticism. He has a very nice outside shot all the way to the three point line and could easily

  • hawki

    Forever….you said “We badly need an athletic 4 who likes to play on the low block offensively”

    That’s how I envision JJ Hickson or Brandan Wright playing for the Suns.

  • Suns Fan In Portland

    JJ Hickson! I’ve seen a lot of him this year up in the Northwest. I don’t know if it’s the contract year, or if he really just figured things out, but he’s been a stud this year. He would really toughen up teh Suns inside. If the price is right he would be a great addition. As far as T Rob, I’m just thinking they might give him away cheap in their zeal to ruin their team with Dwight Power.

  • Scott

    Keep in mind that Tom Robinson was drafted as high as he was because he has NBA size and length (6′ 9″, 7′ 3″ wingspan), an NBA-ready body (240 lbs), elite rebounding skills (he was 2nd only to Kenneth Faried in 2010-11), a consistent motor, defensive skills, and a reasonable handle for a big man.

    In his rookie year, despite playing limited minutes for 2 teams, he averaged about 1 rebound every 3 minutes. Where he needs to develop his game most is that he needs to become a better passer and shooter (two skills associated with IQ). If he had a jump shot, it would open up possibilities for him to get to the hoop.

    So the question is: does he have the IQ to improve? If he does, he’ll be better next year. If he doesn’t, he’ll still provide defense and rebounding, and possibly be a target for pick and roll offense.

    But being a rookie, he’s cheap. The Suns should be looking for young players they can get on trade, and while Robinson maybe isn’t as attractive as some, he may at least be more readily available. The Suns could get him for free, basically, by offering Houston Shannon Brown and $1.5m to pay for Brown’s termination. Since paying to cut Brown is what the Suns were likely to be doing anyway, it would cost nothing to acquire Robinson.

  • foreveris2long

    Hawk, I absolutely agree with Wright/ Hickson options as both are athletic, can defend and score in the low post. Further they are both 25 and under. They both are much better than Robinson.

  • Scott

    I would be surprised if the Suns are able to get either Wright or Hickson.

  • DBreezy

    Zeller to me is yet another example of what I cannot stand about the NBA draft process. When you look at dedicated draft sites like DX,, or even ESPN throughout the year, those prospect rankings are the result of many scouts’ opinions. Some scouts internal to the sites, but most of that is enhanced by the anonymous opinions of NBA scouting types they come in contact with.

    Rankings fluctuate a bit between sites, but things are pretty consistent until the tourney starts and GM types come in flip things upside down. Why even have scouts if you’re gonna ignore them in the end?

    This time a year ago GM’s were disappointed with Harrison Barnes in the tourney, crushing his athleticism ahead of the combine, and questioning his heart/motivation due to reports that he had been cultivating his brand carefully since his high school days. IIRC there was a report that he was either an international marketing major or took some classes for that posited as a negative in drafting him. So a guy who probably should have gone to CLE ends up in GS.

    PJ3 and Sullinger were dropping like rocks before the revelations about their injuries despite being highly ranked for years ahead of the tourney. PJ3 was hammered for not having a great performance vs Kentucky which quite frankly had one hell of a frontline with Davis, Jones, and MKG. Sullinger was questioned for his ability vs bigger players each round until Ohio State finally lost to Kansas. He was hammered for struggling vs a center in Jeff Withey when his NBA position was projected to be PF. In the end, I think there will be a lot of guys taken before these two that people will regret.

    While I’m not in love with Zeller or lobbying for the Suns to take him at 5, I can’t ignore the seemingly ridiculous slide that he and Bazz are taking in what remains a weak draft after being ranked so highly for so long. Even B-Mac is starting to take on water as teams question his mentality. CJ Mcollum is a senior and hasn’t played in months due to injury, yet he’s moving up boards and has upside? Yet guys like Zeller and Bazz who is one year out of high school no matter how old he is, all of sudden are bums and have no upside?

    Even without many workouts for the lottery players yet, it seems like the best thing you can do is be injured in this process I really think JVG has a point when he says the weak point in this league is the GM’s, who get far more chances to screw up than the coaches and players before the hammer falls. One of my favorite things to look at is the mock draft tracker for a prospect on DX. I don’t mind seeing steady improvement over a couple of years, but if I see a fairly steady ranking ahead of the tourney followed by a big spike either direction thereafter, I’m always skeptical. One of the interesting things to me about the Spurs and Thunder draft history is that they often simply wait and see what previously top ranked prospect slips to them and scoop him up.

  • DBreezy


    Foreveris and I had a lot of talks about Sullinger vs T.Rob last year. There was no question who was more athletic or prototypical for a NBA player. I thought they both rebounded pretty well. I thought Sullinger was the far more advanced offensive player, still do. I think that’s a big problem for T.Rob as he measured out shorter than expected and Sullinger actually measured out a bit taller than expected. In fact Sullinger measured out 3/4 of an inch taller in shoes than T.Rob. T.Rob relied heavily on athleticism, hard play, and explosiveness rather than actual moves to score in college and his jumper was unreliable. Even his drives were mostly straight line and of the type more successful in the NCAA than the NBA a la Tyrus Thomas.

    His athleticism isn’t off the charts in the NBA, so he’s going to need a lot of work on his offensive game to be successful in the league, similar to his old teammates the Morris twins. We’ll see if he gets there, but I do expect that he’ll continue to rebound well which is better than I can say for the Morris twins.

  • Scott

    I will say this for Shabazz … he has scoring aggression and he appears to have IQ, and he appears to have a desire to get better and add to his game. So he should be able to continue to improve.

    The difficulties with him are that he doesn’t play consistent defense and his offense is one-dimensional. These may be maturity issues.

    But he is only 20. And while there are other players with advanced games who are the same age or younger (Zeller, Schroeder, Bennett, Goodwin), they all show a lack of maturity in one way or another.

    If the Suns buy a pick and take Shabazz, I would only complain if I thought they left a better player on the board.

  • DBreezy


    While I’ll admit to being more interested in at least kicking the tires on Shabazz than most, I’m not sold that he’s the guy for the Suns at this point. He just seems to be the classic case of a guy who for whatever reason couldn’t live up to the tremendous hype coming out of high school right away and now it seems like the same people who put him up high are lining up to bury him. Similar things seem to happen to these kinds of players who come back for their sophomore years, beware Marcus Smart and Isiah Austin.

    People forget that Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose were headed down similar paths before they turned it on late in the tourney. In fact I believe both of those guys has worse regular seasons relative to expectations compared to Zeller and Bazz but their tourney performances when the GM types bother to pay attention changed much for them. While I don’t think that Bazz and Zeller are on the level of those prospects they do seem to be undersold.

    In Bazz’s case in particular what exactly did scouts expect? The dude was primarily a scorer in high school and he is now after one year of school. The rest of his game was always going to require development with the only plus being that he was more accurate than advertised on spot up jumpers. This draft is what it is quality wise, why make it worse by over scrutinizing the guys who have been followed for year and pumping up guys who really haven’t shown enough to deserve it?

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    I wanted the Suns to draft Sullinger, and as I’ve said numerous times, I hope the Suns work out a trade to get him. But it is hard to get talented rookies away from teams, even when they’re due to miss a year because of injury.

    FWIW, I imagine the Celtics might be one of many squads (Atlanta, Dallas, etc.) looking to sign Wright or Hickson, and I imagine they’ll have to move one of their larger contracts (Green, Bass, Terry, or Lee) to make room. They may need to use Sullinger and/or their draft pick to sweeten the deal.

    Tom Rob does lack elite athleticism and is more of a hustle guy who was drafted too high. What remains to be seen is what he does with his IQ. At the moment, his IQ seems questionable, in that what I see as his main problems are IQ issues: shooting, and court vision / passing. Maybe, like the Morrises, he can’t improve, or will improve too slowly to stay in the NBA.

    But if your team has room and is rebuilding and you can get him for free … how do you turn down the opportunity to take him?

    So … for me it depends on what else the Suns are going to do in the draft and draft day trades. I think any deal involving Tom Rob would be done either toward the end of the draft or afterward, and we’ll know better where the Suns stand by then.

  • foreveris2long

    I think Zeller has been slipping since he was exposed by games against physical athletic teams like Michigan State and Minnesota. Yeah D”Breezy is right about Sullinger suffering a similar fate as did Perry JonesIII. Funny thing is both of these guys are better than Marshall and would have helped the Suns a lot. I was a huge Henson fan and was stunned the Suns did not take him. Suns fans as well as anyone know how GMs screw up the draft process. I take body of work over combine any day of the week.

    I agree with Zeller dropping and probably Shabazz as well. I spoke with a Division I college basketball coach during the season and he was very critical of Shabazz not being a good defender. I think Shabazz had an ok body of work and a sub par combine causing him to drop. The problem with Zeller is he doesn’t have the body to bang at the 4 spot whereas Sullinger did.
    I recall telling D’Breezy I had questions if Sully could get his shot off at the next level.However with all of the questions hands down I would have taken Sully over Marshall. I did not think any team was dumb enough to use a lottery pick on Marshall.

  • DBreezy


    I have no problem with the concept of adding Robinson if the Suns have looked at all better options and also get some sort of pick along with him for taking care of HOU’s salary dump issues.


    I can’t say that I agree with Zeller and Bazz dropping, especially in this draft. There’s just not a lot of separation and many people are actually rising because they haven’t touched a ball (Noel, Len, Bennett, McCollum, even Franklin a bit lately). Looking at the various mocks, I’m not sure that there are really 8,10 or in some cases 15 picks better than these guys. It’s rapidly becoming a who do you like personally competition vs a basketball one. That’s already put Bazz and Zeller in freefall, has elevated Oladipo probably well beyond reason as some have the Magic taking him, and is starting to chip away at BMac. Some team, possibly a Western Conference one ahead of the Suns, may capitalize on all of this.

  • THEDRAGON!!!!!

    I wouldn’t complain if the suns chose Zeller, but only if they traded to get the tenth pick. Remeber, C. Zeller can shoot, all the way to behind the 3 point line. In his work outs he has been impressive. Some people were comparing him to Bosh. Check it out on Espn’s website.

  • Scott

    Re: Zeller, keep in mind that Tom Chambers went #8 in his draft.

  • THEDRAGON!!!!!!!!!!

    Agreed Scott, Zeller could be the next chambers. All of you ne Sayers check sellers video out on espn. They showed Zeller drilling 3 pointers, and his dribbling skills, and his dunking abilaty

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