Charlotte Hornets: Cody Zeller is One of the NBA’s Best Kept Secrets

Apr 27, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) warms up before game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 27, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) warms up before game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Don’t look now but Cody Zeller is quickly becoming one of the league’s best-kept secrets with his underrated play for the Charlotte Hornets.

Not only is Cody Zeller enjoying a career year with the Charlotte Hornets but he is also quietly becoming one of the better big men in the NBA. His numbers may be average on the surface but a deeper look into his play shows how valuable he really is. After years of development, the seven-foot center is really coming into his own this season.

The Hornets had high hopes when they first drafted Cody back in 2013 with the fourth overall pick. His first three seasons with the team could be labeled as disappointments but with limited playing time behind Al Jefferson, Zeller was given time to learn and develop. Even with the somewhat low numbers that he put up in his first three years, Charlotte committed to the 24-year old long-term.

Earlier this year, the team signed Cody to a massive four-year, $56 million extension which seemed crazy at the time but looks more and more like a steal every day. It may sound like a cliche or an overused term but Zeller really does thrive on doing the little things well. His screen setting, boxing out, defensive positioning, and rim runs are what make him so valuable to the team.

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Zeller continues to shine this season as one of the Hornets’ best and most consistent players. I would argue that he has been Charlotte’s third best player behind Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. After Big Al left this summer, Cody was given more minutes and a bigger role with the team and he has embraced his new spot by producing at a career-high level.

He is averaging 10.9 points per game (career-high), 6.3 rebounds per game (career-high), and 1.4 assists per game. Zeller is also getting it done on the defensive end by averaging 1.1 blocks per game (career-high) in 26.3 minutes per game. The biggest jump in Cody’s production has been in his efficiency.

The Indiana native is shooting an impressive 59% from the field which is also a career-high and is good enough for 12th best in the NBA. Zeller’s best play is as the pick-and-roll man when he screens and makes rim runs. He is shooting 52.6% on pick and roll plays which is the highest mark in the league among players with over three such possessions per game. (Stats from

Not only is he shooting a high percentage on PnR plays but Cody has a 55.1% score efficiency on those plays which is the best clip in the NBA among players with over three such plays per game. Here are a few quick hits on Zeller’s pick-and-roll game:

  • 4.2 PnR Possessions per game (7th best in the NBA)
  • 4.5 PPG on PnR plays (tied for 6th best in the NBA)
  • 17.8% Free Throw Frequency (2nd best in the NBA)
  • 3.4% and-one Frequency (tied for 5th best in the NBA)

*Among players with over 3 PnR possessions per game*

As the NBA game gravitates, or already has gravitated, towards being pick-and-roll dominate in many offenses, Zeller has become one of the better big men for that style. Luckily for him, he is also playing with one of the best PnR ball handlers in the league in Kemba Walker. Cody has opened up possibilities for his point guard and vice versa.

His ability to excel in PnR play is quickly and quietly pushing him up the ranks as one of the best big men in the NBA. Although, like I said before, he is also getting the job done on the defensive end. Cody’s ability to play both ends separates him from a number of other players in the league who are mainly one-dimensional.

Take a look at this graph from

Cody is one of only two Charlotte Hornets’ players who are in both the good offense and good defense categories with the other being Nicolas Batum. On a team committed to defense, Zeller stands out because he does so well on both sides. He is among only 21 players in the entire NBA to have at least 3 offensive points added and at least 29 defensive points saved, according to If you look at the league as a whole, it puts him in some elite company as he is only one of 54 players to be positive in both offensive points added and defensive points saved. has already noticed Zeller’s ability to set good screens which is an underrated aspect in today’s game:

“Whatever the reason, screening has become a bit of a lost art. We now laud Cody Zeller of the Hornets for being a “good screen-setter” when in reality, he’s just one of the few players still setting screens through contact. To Zeller’s credit, he’s mastered the Garnett-style use of the arms without making it look illegal, and that’s a nasty talent to gain.”

Next: Nic Batum is Playing More and More Like a Star

Charlotte Hornets’ fans already know how good and valuable Cody is and it won’t be long until others start to take notice. It’s hard to find a big man who can do it all and that is exactly the type of player that Zeller is. As for now, he is still one of the NBA’s best-kept secrets. Enjoy it while you can and jump on the Cody Zeller bandwagon before it leaves without you.