The fans who booed on draft night when the Charlotte Bobcats used the fourth pick on Cody Zeller might want to reconsider.
Teammate Jeff Taylor sure thinks so.
“He’s extremely skilled: Can score the ball inside and out,” Taylor said after an 84-71 summer-league victory over the New York Knicks. “He jumps extremely high to grab rebounds. I’m really impressed by the way he’s been playing these last two games. And it can only get better.”
Then Taylor, who scored 20 points Monday and added four steals, decided he wasn’t done praising Zeller.
“He’s 7-foot with long arms and has like a standing 36-inch vertical, so you can imagine how high he can get,” Taylor described. “I think he has great hands, he catches all the balls, and has touch around the basket. I think he’s a great pick.”
Taylor went through a 21-61 rookie season in which the Bobcats had no post game to speak of. Now they have Zeller, who finished Monday with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and free agent center Al Jefferson, one of the NBA’s most proven back-to-the-basket threats.
That should open up a lot for guard-forward Taylor, who continued a great summer league. He got to the foul line 10 times Monday, though he paid a price: A second-half collision induced enough pain in his ribs that Taylor got post-game X-rays to make sure he hadn’t fractured anything.
“I took a little shot on a drive to the basket,” Taylor said. “I was isolated with (Eloy) Vargas, drove middle and I jumped into their big guy, (Jerome) Jordan. I caught it a little bit in the ribs. It hurts but its fine.”
The Bobcats are 2-1 in their first three games, beating the Knicks and Dallas Mavericks and losing to the San Antonio Spurs. They won’t know who and when they play next until Tuesday games are completed, as the Las Vegas summer league has gone to an elimination tournament format after each team plays three games.
Steve Clifford says he’s made a point of not over-coaching Zeller this summer, in part because he likes the rookie’s instincts. One wrinkle Zeller showed Monday was a diagonal drive to the rim. On one of those drives against the Knicks in the third quarter, he did a spin along the baseline for a reverse layup.
“He’s got jets for his size: A quick, quick step for his right hand,” Clifford described. “I don’t want to put any limits on him. The thing he does is help his teammates play better by making quick, little decisions with the ball. That you can’t teach.”
Happy as Zeller is to be getting the transition from college to the pros, he doesn’t get overly excited about anything, good or bad. With two older brothers who have played in the NBA, he understands summer league is just an intermediate step.
“This is about trying out different things – what works, what doesn’t – so I’ll be ready for the regular season,” Zeller said.
“You want to learn your teammates’ tendencies, where they want passes. It will keep getting better.”