“Workout wonder” is a common term in professional sports and not generally complimentary.
Those are the guys who test well – based on strength, speed, agility, whatever – but never successfully apply those gifts to their chosen sport.
Charlotte Bobcats rookie Cody Zeller had a wonderful workout at the Chicago draft combine. The Bobcats aren’t worried that makes Zeller a “workout wonder.”
“He was at or near the top of every measure and not just at his position. He’s a superior natural athlete,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “Then at summer league, I think he played so well. Everyone watches those games so carefully. I’ll say they know what he can do.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Zeller was named to the all-tournament team at the Las Vegas summer league after averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. He made a signature play out in Las Vegas, beating two defenders off the dribble, going baseline and finishing with a reverse layup,
That’s the speed and quickness Zeller’s Chicago workout projected.
Zeller had a good, but not great, sophomore season at Indiana before turning pro. He averaged 16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and shot 56 percent from the field. Indiana coach Tom Crean needed Zeller in the post offensively, but that kept Zeller from showcasing all the things he could do athletically farther from the basket.
Then came Chicago.
The NBA does four primary physical tests at the combine: Vertical leap, bench press (measuring repetitions of 185 pounds), agility drill (a scurry around the lane involving lateral movement, forward movement and back-pedaling) and a short sprint.
Zeller aced them all. His vertical leap was 37.5 inches. He benched-pressed 185 pounds 17 times. He ran the agility drill in 10.82 seconds and the sprint in 3.15 seconds.
Bobcats strength and conditioning coach Matt Friia gave those numbers context Wednesday at training camp.
“The vertical – almost a 40 – that’s what we see in guards who are freak athletes. If (7-footers) get over 30 that’s very good. Quite rare to find someone near 40,” Friia said. “Doing that agility drill under 11 seconds is impressive for anybody. Anything under 13 would be good for someone of his size. He’s very quick laterally. This is about changing directions really quick and he does that very well.
“There are 7-footers who are strong, there are 7-footers who move well. To have both in a rookie? That’s a rare find.”
That was a factor in the Bobcats’ conviction to draft Zeller fourth overall. They project him as a power forward playing in the high post, where his athleticism might be more impactful.
How did Zeller get to this point? He credits his strength coach back at Indiana, Je’Ney Jackson, with pushing him and Hoosiers teammate Victor Oladipo hard the past two years. As a freshman Zeller could lift 185 pounds 12 times. He’s gotten those reps as high as 22. In that same span, Zeller increased his vertical leap by about three inches.
And the agility?
“Just a god-given ability,” Zeller said. “My brothers (basketball players Tyler and Luke) kid me that if a new sport was created tomorrow I’d be good at it because I’m athletic and good at trying new things.”
Opponents seemed shocked at summer league just how fast Zeller’s feet move. That won’t stay a secret for long.
“I’m not the biggest guy so I use that to my advantage,” Zeller said. “You can tell that I’m quick, but it’s different playing against me.”