Charlotte Hornets

2013 NBA draft: Charlotte Bobcats miss big opportunity with choice of Cody Zeller

When the Charlotte Bobcats made their selection in Thursday’s NBA draft, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel was available. Maryland center Alex Len was available. If you prefer guards, the best guard in the draft, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, was available.

In other words, the best players in the 2013 draft were available. It was as if, after all the Bobcats’ bad lottery luck, they had finally won. The fourth pick felt like the first pick. The night was going to be legendary.

And then it wasn’t.

The Bobcats selected Indiana forward Cody Zeller.

Zeller runs well, shoots well, especially for a 7-footer, and is said to be a nice guy. His numbers at the draft combine in Chicago were outstanding, a testament to athleticism.

But is this what they need? My column is not long enough, this sports section not large enough and my fingers not agile enough to list all that the Bobcats need.

They especially need a big man who imposes himself on a defense. Zeller, 20, was not that guy at Indiana. He was not so tough in the tough Big Ten last season. He was not so tough in Indiana’s meek NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse.

True, Zeller is the only top candidate to come to Time Warner Cable Arena to work out for the Bobcats. But if there is no next best thing to being there why didn’t Duke’s 7-foot Mason Plumlee get off the Barcalounger and get on I-85?

Whoever made the pick for Charlotte – Rod Higgins, Rich Cho or both – saw qualities others might not have. If the Bobcats had not taken Zeller fourth, would he have gone fifth, sixth or 13th?

If the Bobcats are right and Zeller is a name-taking, court-running, jumper-hitting and tougher-than-we-think big man, Charlotte’s decision-makers ought to have a job for life.

If they’re wrong, they might be looking for work in 2014.

Will Zeller be better than Josh McRoberts (now an unrestricted free agent) was for Charlotte last season? McRoberts is 6-10, a superior passer and decent outside shooter and rebounder.

Will Zeller be better than Byron Mullens (now a restricted free-agent) was for Charlotte last season? Mullens, 7-foot, has a nice touch from the outside.

Both are tall players with, at least on occasion, the mindset of a small forward. So, at least on occasion, is Zeller. Bring McRoberts back. Bring Mullens back. Collect the whole set.

A draft, of course, is not about doing what everybody expects you to do. If you make your living making decisions you follow your instincts, not the crowd.

Higgins and Cho say: Zeller can play center or power forward. The team will run more and they can run the offense through him. That Zeller is healthy, and Noel and Len are coming off injuries, did not influence the pick.

Cho talks about a play in which Zeller dives past half court to deflect the ball, gets up, sprints to the basket and dunks the ball.

That’s impressive. It would be foolish not to give Zeller a chance. If you want this team to succeed, those of us who question the pick would not mind being wrong.

I question the pick. I really question the pick.

Thursday could have been an evening that furthered the fragile bond between the town and the team. This could have been a pick that would prompt fans to throw parties. Instead, it prompted some of the fans at the arena to throw their caps not for joy but with anger.

They were Bobcat caps, too.

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