Out of the two Cavaliers first round draft choices, Tyler Zeller is the player most likely to make an impact right away. The rare collegiate player to stay all four years and still be a first round pick, Zeller is polished for a twenty-two year old center. And at 7’0, 250 pounds, he’s got the right body type to make an impact right away in the association. Time will tell, but my hunch is that the Cavs made the right move by trading their three remaining draft picks to the Dallas Mavericks in order to get Zeller with the 17th pick overall.
As a senior at North Carolina, Zeller averaged 16.3 points per game, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks with an outstanding 55.3% shooting percentage from the field. He was the ACC player of the year in a conference that featured Austin Rivers, Kendall Marshall, and John Henson. All three of the named players were first round picks in the 2012 Draft, and Zeller beat all of them out for ACC Player of the Year award. In addition to that honor, Zeller was also a second team All-American.
Zeller had very solid summer league season as well, as he averaged 11.4 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game on 46.3% shooting. His free throw shooting was also outstanding, as he shot at a 90.5% clip. Anything above 75% is considering good for a post player, and above 90% is outstanding. Success in the summer league is in no ways indicative of NBA success, but it was nice to see one of the Cavs rookies preform well in the absence of Kyrie Irving, who missed most of the summer league due to his broken hand.
My expectations for Zeller this season are that he has a pretty solid rookie season. He won’t have to carry the load up front, as the Cavs have Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, and Samardo Samuels to let him ease his way into the NBA. Unlike other rookies (namely Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons), Zeller has an NBA ready game along with the skilled players around him. He’s also legitimate seven footer, which is something that you can’t teach. Look at Roy Hibbert on the Indiana Pacers, for example. Hibbert isn’t that skilled, especially on the offensive end, where his moves are pretty basic. But he is 7’2 and that gives him an edge with rebounding and shot blocking. Zeller has more skills than Hibbert and that should make him effective right away.
I’ll project that Zeller starts around sixty games this season, averaging around ten points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. His first season as a Cavalier will go pretty smooth, especially compared to fellow rookie Dion Waiters. He won’t win rookie of the year, but he’ll establish a role that he will keep for years to come. He’ll be source of optimism for Cavs fans this season, the second season in the Kyrie Irving era.