Photo credit - Getty Images

Hoosiers in the NBA: Cody Zeller Season in Review

The 2017-18 NBA season has ended for five of the eight former Indiana Hoosiers that registered statistics in the league this year.  Today marks the fifth in a series of more in depth reviews of their respective seasons as we discuss former Hoosier big man Cody Zeller.

It is interesting timing to be talking about former IU star Cody Zeller.  Over seven years ago he committed to play for Tom Crean and the Hoosiers in what was viewed at the time as game-changer for the program.  And it was, at least for a little while.  Fast forward to today, and we are about a week away from a potentially similar type of announcement.

Zeller played two seasons with Indiana and was an immediate success, winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2012 as voted on by the coaches.  He was first-team All Big Ten for the 2012-13 season.  For his Indiana career the Washington, Indiana native averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and shot 59.3% from the field.

Zeller was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, two selections after Indiana teammate Victor Oladipo.

ZELLER’S 2017-18 SEASON

Zeller had put up career best numbers for the 2016-17 season.  He averaged 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1 steal and 0.9 blocks per game last year.  The mobile 7-0 big man had started for the better part of three consecutive seasons and seemed to be improving each year.

Photo credit – Chuck Barton/AP

But despite the continuous improvement and increased production, there was uncertainty coming into the season after Charlotte went out and acquired Dwight Howard from Atlanta.  Suddenly Zeller was sent back to the bench and would assume a reserve role for the 2017-18 campaign.

With what in retrospect seems like a sign of things to come, Zeller missed the first four games of the season with a knee bruise.  Then, in December he suffered a meniscus tear to his left knee that forced him to miss 27 games.

The injury happened on a drive to the basket in a home game against Golden State on December 6.  Zeller landed awkwardly, and the expression on his face and inability to get back down the floor made it clear that something was wrong.

It was the first serious knee injury for Zeller, and Sam Perley with the Charlotte Hornets had this quote on why it was more difficult to recover from a lower-body injury than an upper-body injury.

“It is a big difference [from an upper-body injury] because you have to have your knees healthy to be able to run, jump. When I had my shoulder injury, it was my right shoulder, so it affected how I was able to shoot. The biggest deal was being able to shoot, but I was able to stay in running shape as I was recovering from my shoulder. This has been a big difference. Trying to keep my cardio up has been a big deal,”

He also indicated that there were mental challenges for him as the season rolled on while he tried to work his way back to being ready.

“It’s tough mentally because you’re away from the team, you’re doing a lot of lifting, conditioning. The games are the fun part and that’s what I’m missing out on. It’s tough mentally as well,”

Ultimately, things got better, before they got worse.  While he was able to return to action on February 2 against Indiana, the knee wasn’t always cooperating.  Zeller would suffer with swelling and soreness, and just a few weeks later he was missing time again.  He gave it one more go in early March, but a March 8 game against Brooklyn would be his final appearance of the season.

In total Zeller played in 33 of a possible 82 games this season.

Games/Games Started – 33/0
Points – 7.1
Rebounds – 5.4
Assists – .9
Blocks – .6
Steals – .4
FG% – .545
3FG% – .667
FT% – .718

2017-18 “EXIT INTERVIEW”

You can watch what Zeller had to say regarding the 2017-18 season and his plans for the offseason here:

WHAT’S NEXT

The good news for Zeller is that he only has a few more weeks left of resting the knee before he is able to start a full offseason of conditioning.  As he saw last year however, the offseason can bring change as well.

Howard ended up having what was regarded as a bounce-back season, but he also comes with a hefty price-tag.  At this point it isn’t clear whether the Hornets will keep Howard for next year, and obviously that decision has a direct impact on Zeller’s role with the team.

It remains to be seen what next season has in store for The Big Handsome.  But at 7-0 tall and with elite NBA center speed and quickness, Cody Zeller will continue to be valuable piece of the puzzle in some capacity as long as he is healthy.

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