Unless the lottery goes horribly awry, today’s profile won’t be terribly applicable to the Cavs. I’m trying to hit the top 40-ish prospects though, so we’ll discuss the University of North Carolina’s lottery-bound front court duo.
Tyler Zeller is a 22 year old senior seven-footer, who showed significant improvement every year of his college career, finally peaking this year as the ACC Player of the Year and a potential top-ten pick. In 28 minutes per game this season, he tallied over 16 points and 9 rebounds, including nearly four at the offensive end. Thanks to soft touch around the basket and a reliable ability to draw fouls, his offensive rating reached an impressive 121 while using nearly one-quarter of the Tar Heels possessions. Along with possessing an expanding back-to-the-basket game, including strong drop-steps and a right handed hook shot, he knocked down 81% of his 225 free throws. Although he largely eschews perimeter looks, that sterling percentage offers a glimpse of hope for growth there. As is typical, UNC played at the NCAA’s tenth fastest pace last season, and Zeller thrives in this environment, running the floor extremely well for a center. According to draftexpress.com, he finished 79% of his transition opportunities. He is a strong team defender, but lacks ideal strength or length for an NBA center. Those non-elite physical attributes cap his NBA ceiling.
John Henson is the Tar Heels’ 21 year old junior power forward: 6’-10” with a huge wingspan and explosive athleticism, but awfully skinny at 220 lbs. Despite his lanky frame, he utilizes his length and hops on offense to aggressively attack the basket. On the block, he goes to work with a left-handed hook shot and a turnaround jumper, while on the perimeter, he shows decent touch on a jump shot. His 14 points per game are not terribly efficient, at 51% true shooting, due to a lack of three point range and horrid free throw shooting. The 51% on freebies is actually a three year high. Where his living will be made is rebounding and defense. This season, he averaged 10 boards and 3 blocks, tallying the ACC’s highest defensive rebound rate and block percentage. His great length and constant energy make him a nuisance at the basket and on the perimeter; his non-muscular frame poses his primary weakness here, as stronger players maneuver him at will occasionally.
03/03 against Duke – Henson polished off a tidy 13 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block and 0 turnovers as UNC routed their cross-state rivals, 88 – 70. While not pretty offensively, he connected on 2 of 4 mid-range jumpers and 1 of 2 from the block, en route to 60% true shooting. Defensively, he showed well on pick-and-rolls and always made an effort to box-out, but Duke’s Plumlee boys effectively out-muscled the Henson & Zeller frontcourt to post 33 points and 15 rebounds on 14 of 22 from the field.
03/10 against NC State – Zeller paced UNC with 23 points on 79% true shooting and 9 rebounds in this tight 69 to 67 win. Almost all of his offensive damage occurred from the low post, knocking down 6 of 9 from this location, primarily off of ambidextrous hook shots and lengthy drop steps. When he receives a pass, he exhibits great ability to fire quickly, still with a soft touch. NC State’s front line rotation isn’t exactly NBA-sized though, measuring in at 6’ – 8”, 6’ – 8”, and 6’ – 9”. Okay, it’s NBA-sized if you count Cleveland’s dynamic duo of Samardo Samuels and Luke Walton. Further damaging the impressiveness of Zeller’s performance are the six offensive rebounds by NC State’s Richard Howell. Howell’s a big guy at 250 lbs, built like the aforementioned Samuels, and he repeatedly out-worked the UNC center on the boards.
03/25 against Kansas – UNC’s season ended in the Elite Eight, as Henson posted a dismal 10 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block in 25 minutes in his third game after returning from a late season wrist injury. While making 5 of 12 shots, only his post game proved effective, as he connected on a lefty hook and a turnaround. He converted 1 of 5 jumpers, including an errant 18 footer with twenty seconds left on the shot clock, while Zeller posted up an over-matched guard down low. Really, his defense didn’t overwhelm either; Thomas Robinson beat him facing up and down low. TRob and Jeff Withey combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds on 64% true shooting, while Kansas netted an efficient 112 offensive rating.
In 34 minutes, Zeller scored 12 points on 6 of 11 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds. He drained a long two and scored on hook-shots and drop-steps. Poor ball protection resulted in two turnovers as a double-teaming defender stripped the rock away. On defense, he swatted four shots, including two outstanding pick-and-roll help rotations when he flew to the basket from the perimeter. Generally, he made life difficult at the basket for the Jayhawk guards and also drew a charge. As negatives, Robinson twice blasted past him on face-ups, and there was at least one defensive rebound that should have been his, but a weak box-out allowed a tip-in.
Summary: When I create a “draft board”, it’s likely that Zeller and Henson will show up in the consensus spots, around the second half of the lottery.
Zeller rates as the best senior seven-footer since Roy Hibbert, and with continued commitment to his game and strength, he’s capable of posting similar numbers to the big Pacer as he rounds into his prime. Hibbert averaged 13 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks this year on 54% true shooting, while making his first all-star team. I’ll say 27-year-old Zeller posts 14, 8 and 1.2 on 56% true shooting, if he finds himself in an up-tempo system with a solid point guard. The Cavs could certainly use a 7 footer with shooting range, but it appears that will need to wait another year, as better talent surely presents itself in the draft’s top five.
Henson gained 30 – 40 pounds since he showed up at Chapel Hill. If he can tip the scales a little further, he can be a poor man’s Serge Ibaka; wreaking havoc with his defensive help and knocking down 15 footers. With regards to the Cavs, hopefully the middle-class-man’s Ibaka already wears the wine & gold, in the form of Tristan Thompson. Cleveland can find someone that better fits their needs (although I know one commenter disagrees. Holla KJ!!).