After being picked by many as the preseason player of the year, Cody Zeller had a lot to live up to this season. The added pressure and expectations were nothing new to the sophomore big man as some were calling him the “Savior” of IU basketball before he ever played a minute of Division 1 basketball.
Looking over the season as a whole, IU fans must be very pleased with the output Zeller put together in his second season wearing the candy stripes. Statistically speaking, Zeller had a very good year, but one that didn’t necessarily improve a whole lot from his freshman campaign. A couple extra points and rebounds per game doesn’t really jump out as a someone who really took his game to the next level.
Still, Cody put up solid enough numbers that any team in the nation would benefit from. So why does his season still feel he didn’t produce at the level most expected him to? Perhaps, it was all the praise Tom Crean threw around before the season saying Zeller was the most improved player on the team. Victor Oladipo was clearly the most improved on this team (and probably around the nation) so it makes you think, was Coach Crean just blowing smoke?
All Crean’s talk about how good Cody had become made everybody believe he was a lock to be the #1 pick in next year’s draft. We didn’t see a much improved Zeller for the most part. We saw a guy who was stronger but still lacked the toughness and aggressiveness when teams got physical with him. We saw a guy who still looked incredible uncomfortable and lacked confidence with his outside jumper. We saw a guy who had the exact same moves as a freshman but many times lacked the finishing touch he had last season.
If Zeller were to improve as much as we expected him too, the decision to go to the NBA would have been a no-brainer. Now, following a really bad Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse in which his weaknesses looked more exploited than ever, a lot have questioned whether or not it would be the right move for the 7-footer to enter the pros.
Just like last year, there will come a point where he will have to make another tough decision. Does he leave IU and take the money? Or does he stay in school? He is expected to announce to his decision sometime this week.
For further discussion on this topic, I have decided to make a list of reasons of why he should make either choice. I believe these are exact things Cody will have to think about when actually coming to a final decision. At the end, I will tell you what I think he will choose to do and why.
Why Cody Zeller should go pro:
- Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and (most likely) Victor Oladipo won’t be there next year. These three guys have been there ever since Cody arrived on campus. Not only were these guys key contributors to this year’s team, the leadership and work ethic these guys brought to the team will have to be replaced. Cody would have to step into a much greater leadership role and based on his personality, that could be something that he would have to step out of his comfort zone to do.
- To take advantage of this year’s weak draft class. I’m no draft expert but this year’s draft seems somewhat lower, in terms of established talent compared to most years, especially the top 10-15 picks. 2014 will have guys like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and the Harrison Twins to compete with. Zeller is still a consensus lottery pick in this year’s draft so why not leave while the competition up top isn’t as crowded.
- To escape the brutal beat down that is the Big Ten. Playing in the Big Ten can’t be fun for Cody Zeller. Sure it presents him the opportunity to play against some of the top teams and big men in the country but it has to take a toll on his body. The Big Ten is known for its physical play throughout so why not escape all the scratching, clawing, sack-tapping, and double teams and find you a nice seat on a NBA bench (and getting paid millions of dollars to do so).
- Cody is a business student, so why not act like one? If Cody stays in school, he would be passing up millions to go play in the NBA. He can go ahead and get his degree but is a degree that pivotal when you already have an organization willing to pay you seven digits a year to work for them? He can always finish out his classes whenever his playing days are over or even during if he has time. I know he has said multiple times that he genuinely enjoys being a college student at IU but after two full years you would think that has worn off a little. Maybe he just wants to wait to hit up the bars on Kirkwood before swimming in the cash.
Why Cody Zeller should stay
- He isn’t “NBA” ready. Many scouts are already saying it and they ought to after the Syracuse game. Length and athleticism tends to bother Zeller a lot and that is all Cody will see at the next level. The majority of a NBA game is played trying to execute half-court sets so it may be harder for him to use his biggest strength which is running the floor. He should stay in school to develop more polished moves inside and show that he is capable of being much tougher and aggressive against physicality.
- Expectations won’t be quite as high. This is for both Cody and the team as a whole. I expect the Hoosiers to still be really good next year but not right away and not preseason #1 good. A year where the country doesn’t expect him to turn water into wine, may be what Zeller needs.
- Next year’s team will be his. Zeller got most of the percentage of possessions in both of his first two years but he still had to share the ball quite often with talents like Oladipo, Watford, Verdell Jones, and Will Sheehey. In 2013-14, Zeller could be the first, second, third, and probably fourth option on offense. Too many times Cody has been flat out ignored on offense but with next year’s team he shouldn’t allow that.
- To get his degree. Cody has acknowledged numerous times the importance his family puts on getting a degree. I believe he would only have to take one semester of classes in the fall and then he can take online classes in the spring to be done with it. If Cody and his parents value a degree over getting a head start on his professional career than he would have to come back.
Final Verdict: He enters the NBA draft.
Ultimately I believe fans will accept Cody’s decision no matter what he chooses. He has given us two great years and brought Indiana Basketball back. What more can you ask from the kid. I just think the opportunity to progress his career along is now and waiting another year opens up a lot of possibilities of something bad happening. So Cody if I were you, I would take the money and run. You don’t owe us IU fans anything more.