“It wasn’t really ever announced”, Tyler Zeller said, before making his first preseason start against the Indiana Pacers. “It was just something we kind of knew once Coach Scott put me with the first team at practice”.
As I stood there listening, while taking Instagram pics of Zeller directly in front of his face, it seemed he knew he was prepared. He was about to not only matchup with his hometown Pacers, but also start against an All-Star center in Roy Hibbert.
Who is huge, by the way, even for an NBA center. But the 17th overall pick from North Carolina stood there confident in his ability. He was prepared, and excited.
It didn’t take long for him to impress the heck out of me either once the game was underway. He boxed Hibbert out every time a shot went up as if he was fighting for Zeller Family supremacy in a driveway game of football-style-21 against brothers Luke and Cody.
As a rookie, passed over by half the NBA in June, he was completely unafraid. He was willing to attack Hibbert offensively, along with Indiana’s imposing frontline that includes David West. He looked strong enough to bang with just about every other center in the League in the process too. By the end of the night, he finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block in 29 minutes of work.
He collected 5 defensive rebounds as well, an area of the game that Coach Byron Scott calls “his biggest concern for this team”. Only Anderson Varejao (6 defensive rebounds) had more. Solid enough stats to be sure, but they only tell half the story.
Tyler Zeller is a baller, you guys. If you’re sleeping on that right now it’s time you wake up.
Assuming, of course, that he plays the way he did during one preseason game for the rest of the year.
So how much of an impact could Tyler Zeller make this season?
I expect Tyler Zeller to start at center in at least half of the 82-games the Cavaliers play this year. If Varejao ends up being dealt at the deadline, he’ll start even more. But regardless of that, Tyler is skilled enough offensively to compliment Andy inside.
He makes the Cavaliers a better passing team when he’s out there. Playing him at the center position also makes this team more athletic. I’ve been saying since I sat watching him in Vegas Summer League that he is the most underrated athlete in this year’s rookie class. I still believe that. What has me even more gassed up this morning though, is that it also looks like he’s physical enough to hold his own against top-tier centers throughout the NBA.
Just like he did against Roy Hibbert, who finished with 4 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes of work.
Zeller could take a whole lot of pressure off Dion Waiters
Last season, Tristan Thompson was not totally burdened by the inherent pressures typically associated with being a fourth overall selection. He did have some pressure to be sure, but certainly not anything like Dion Waiters has right now.
Who was also picked fourth.
Thompson had Kyrie Irving shouldering 80 percent of those expectations for him based on the fact that he went three picks earlier. He eventually eliminated that pressure for both rookies by how well he inevitably played.
As fans, we looked at last season’s draft and figured it was a collective win regardless of how well Tristan played because Kyrie was killing. Thompson demonstrating the skills and abilities that he did were viewed as a bonus.
Zeller could have a similar impact on Waiters this season. To a degree. Or to be more fair, he could at least help shoulder some of that pressure Dion Waiters is trying to carry all by himself right now. If Tyler opens this season playing at a level I think he’s capable of – 11.5 points and 7 rebounds on a nightly basis, perhaps – that could go a long way toward making this year’s draft look like a collective win too.
Only one game in the preseason, I know. I just feel it’s necessary to get this Tyler Zeller Bandwagon running at full-speed right now. Before Zeller’s ever played in a real NBA game.
He’s left me no other choice.