The Charlotte Bobcats are unexpectedly sitting in an Eastern Conference playoff spot and their 21-year-old rookie center Cody Zeller has been having fun in his first NBA season. The change from college has been huge and Zeller has a lot to learn, but its better when you are winning a few games along the way.
“It is definitely a learning process being a rookie in the NBA,” Zeller said. “You have a lot to learn, but everyone has been good about trying to help me out, the coaches, the vets, everyone along the way. We are winning, so everything is better when you are winning.
“It’s definitely fun. It could be a lot worse than playing basketball for a living.”
Like many rookies, the biggest adjustment is the change from the college game to the NBA. Everything is different, the schedule is tougher and the level of competition is so much higher. Zeller is just trying to contribute whatever he can for now.
“I think it’s just playing 82 games against the best players in the world,” Zeller said. “You have the most talented players every night, whether you play good or play bad, you got another game the next night, so you have to put it behind you whether it was a good or a bad game and get ready for the next one.
“The biggest thing is just to learn the game. There are so many new things. Defensive principles, offense – what a team is looking for – there is a lot learning, so it’s a big process. Later on I’ll be able to develop more skills and make more of an impact, but right now I am just trying to do whatever I can to make an impact on winning.”
On the Bobcats, winning comes from defense. Charlotte is one of the lowest scoring teams in the NBA. Most of the time, this team wins ugly or not at all. Zeller is all in with Head Coach Steve Clifford’s program.
“Coach Clifford is big on defense,” Zeller said. “We won a lot of games just playing defense. We won a lot of games that haven’t been pretty, but they go down as wins still, so that has been big for us all year and hopefully we can keep that up.
“It’s just the basic principles we started with in training camp and not getting away from those. It’s the little details like communication. We don’t have too many crazy shot blockers or anything. We play a good fundamental defense.”
Looking back at last season, Zeller can see where he’s been and it provides a solid context for what he is up against now.
“I am learning,” Zeller said. “You know, now when I watch a college game it seems so hectic because in an NBA game, you have spots you want to get to, you have players you want to get in isolation – little things here and there.”
Zeller is averaging just over 16 minutes a game in Charlotte and he is having an impact at the defensive end of the court by grabbing over 18 percent of the available defensive rebounds. His offense has a long ways to go, but in Coach Clifford’s system, his defense should keep him on the court and having fun winning some ugly games.
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