Roy Hibbert Could Secure the Starting Center Spot With Cody Zeller Injured

Sep 26, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Roy Hibbert (55) poses for a portrait during media day at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Roy Hibbert (55) poses for a portrait during media day at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /
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The injury that is keeping Cody Zeller out of training camp could lead to Roy Hibbert securing the starting center position for the Charlotte Hornets.

On media day, head coach, Steve Clifford, made it clear that he wasn’t sure who would start at center for the Charlotte Hornets. After the addition of Roy Hibbert this offseason, speculation has surrounded the five spot for the team this summer. Now with Cody Zeller dealing with an injury during training camp, could Hibbert make the starting position his own going forward?

Zeller is still recovering from a bone bruise on his knee that he suffered in the playoff series against the Miami Heat last season. He was making his way back from the ailment but Cody reaggravated the bruise during training with the USA Select Team this summer. With Hornets’ training camp underway, he is only participating in non-contact and shooting drills. Beat writer, Rick Bonnell, tweeted that the fourth year big man “could sit out some exhibitions.”

Charlotte acquired Hibbert this offseason via free agency when they signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal. Roy had a down year with the Los Angeles Lakers last season and the Hornets were able to sign him to a reasonable contract. Now that he gets a fresh start in the Queen City, the 7’2 center could instantly make his mark with the team.

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Cody Missing Valuable Time

Although it isn’t clear when Zeller is going to return, it should be sooner rather than later. The problem with Cody’s injury is that it has lingered for some time and it will now force him to miss out on valuable drills with the team during training camp. Hibbert will fill in for him with the starting unit and get the load of minutes and playing time with the starters during practice and during preseason games.

The plus side for Cody is that he has experience under coach Clifford and with the other starters on the team. Hibbert will need to build a rapport with his new teammates during training camp and exhibition games.

Hibbert’s Opprotunity

Roy Hibbert has been given he opportunity of a lifetime with Charlotte this summer. After a career-worst season, he may get the chance to start for a playoff contending team in the Hornets. Not many players get the shot to start after the type of year that he had last season.

With Zeller nursing his injury, the veteran big man can establish his role with the team and “steal” Cody’s spot right out from under him. Keep in mind that Hibbert has started every game except for one over the past six years.

If the 29-year old big man can return to his all-star form that he had back with the Indiana Pacers just a few short seasons ago, he could revitalize his career and make the Hornets a legit contender in the Eastern Conference. It is unlikely that Hibbert returns to the level of an all-star but he could surely see improvements in his game from last year.

Cody’s Spot to Lose?

After taking over the starting center role for the Hornets last season from Al Jefferson, it seemed as if it was Zeller’s spot to lose going into the 2016 campaign. The recent comments from Cody and Steve Clifford now have it as a competition between Hibbert and Zeller going forward. Many expected, including myself, that Zeller would be the starting center on opening night.

He had experience with the team and played well in the role last year. The addition of Roy raised a few eyebrows but I don’t think anyone really thought that he would take the spot from Cody this quickly. We could also see them each start a number of games this season depending on match-ups.

Let’s take a look at their averages from last season via Basketball-reference.com:

Zeller: 8.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.9 BPG, 24.3 MPG, 73 G, 52.9% FG/ 10% 3P/ 75.4% FT

Hibbert: 5.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.4 BPG, 23.2 MPG, 81 G, 44.3% FG/80.7% FT

It is clear that while they are both productive players, Hibbert offers more defensively and Zeller has the upside on offense. They each have their downfalls and strengths. Both are in contract year’s so it will definitely be interesting to see how it plays out this season.

Next: Five Bold Predictions For the 2016-17 Season

The starting center position should be determined during training and the preseason. Steve Clifford and the team will be able to get a good look at both Roy Hibbert and Cody Zeller going forward and who fits best with the current roster. Either way, they both could be a deadly one-two punch for the Charlotte Hornets in the 2016-17 season.