2012 Draft Profile: Tyler Zeller

 

Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of June, Timberwolves.com will profile a series of prospects that could be available at Minnesota’s No. 18 pick during the 2012 NBA Draft on June 28. Part six details big man Tyler Zeller, a North Carolina product who is on the fringe of the lottery range.

PROSPECT: Tyler Zeller

POSITION: Center
SCHOOL: North Carolina
CLASS: Senior


HEIGHT: 7’0”
WEIGHT: 245 lbs
PROJECTION: picks 10-15


THE LAST TWO YEARS

After his first two college seasons were hampered by injuries, Zeller enjoyed a full and healthy junior campaign while averaging around 15 points and seven rebounds per game. Most scouts saw him as a first-round prospect — especially after some big March Madness performances — but Zeller elected to return for his senior year to make a title run with a loaded Tarheel team.

Zeller entered his senior year with lofty expectations, as his UNC squad was ranked No. 1 by nearly every major poll and featured other NBA hopefuls such as Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson. Despite being ranked in the top 10 all year, the Tarheels fell short in both the ACC Tournament (losing to Florida State in the title game) and March Madness (losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight). Zeller was named ACC Player of the Year after averaging nearly a double-double throughout his senior year.

 

STRENGTHS

Scouts love Zeller as a solid big man. He is a true seven-footer with good length, size and athleticism, and his frame looks like it could add some more bulk (he has around 6 percent body fat). There just aren’t many centers who bring his combination of size, good hands and athletic ability. He is an efficient scorer who averaged over 20 points per 40 minutes in each of his last three seasons, and he has shown touch around the rim along with a promising jump shot. It’s encouraging that Zeller steadily improved in almost every statistical category throughout his four years at UNC. One of his best attributes is that he can run in transition very well and could be an ideal center for a fast-paced team; as far as his half-court ability, his skills are improving and some see him as a valuable asset in pick-and-roll situations. One thing to also note about Zeller is that his intangibles are great. He was an NCAA Academic All-American who is polite and well-spoken; He won’t bring a franchise a bad image or act immaturely.

QUESTION MARKS

Negative remarks on Zeller’s game tend to focus on his lack of strength down low. Bigger players have shown that they can box him out relatively easily for easy access to the hoop. His jumper could use better arc and consistency. He also doesn’t blow you away in any category; he’s simply solid. Other big men in the draft like Meyers Leonard or UNC teammate John Henson bring a lot more potential and athleticism to the table. Zeller can enter the league as a solid backup center, but will he improve?

WHAT HE CAN BRING TO THE WOLVES

Zeller would be a high-character big man who could learn from Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, both players who are not overflowing with athletic ability but who use craftiness and fundamentals to be very productive. Coach Rick Adelman remarked at the end of the season that he wants players who work hard and who care; Zeller definitely fits that mold.

The big men in the NBA draft are starting to separate. Once you get past the top 10 picks, guys like Meyers Leonard, John Henson and Zeller will probably all go somewhere in the teens. Leonard seems to be settling in a late-lottery slot because of his high upside and height, and that should give the Wolves a decent chance of finding Zeller at the 18th pick.