If there were any silver linings in Brooklyn’s most recent 112-104 loss to Denver, it was Tyler Zeller’s solid play in limited time. He was arguably Brooklyn’s best player on Tuesday.
Think about that.
Zeller led the team with 21 points in 28 minutes on 8-of-10 shooting. He’s 17 of his last 24 in the last three games, averaging 10.5 points on 64.3 percent shooting in 18 minutes per game. He’s averaging 17.7 points and seven rebounds per 36.
More to think about. On so many different levels.
Trevor Booker is out with a sore lower back. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is out with a hip contusion. Jarrett Allen is out with a foot sprain. So, Zeller became the next, next, next man up for the Nets – and he hasn’t disappointed as of late.
Zeller has scored in double figures in consecutive games for the first time this season after doing so once all of last season and that came in the first week of November. The 21 points marked the most points he’s scored since recording a career-high 26 points in the 2015-16 season. His current averages of 9.0 points and 15.9 minutes per game are his highest since the 2014-15 season, when he averaged 10.2 in 21.1 for Boston.
Check out his heat map.
His contributions haven’t been major, but he’s doing the little things that Timofey Mozgov has failed to do thus far. He’s setting good screens and rebounding the basketball.
He hasn’t stretched the floor too much, as seen on the chart, and in fact his next three will be the first of his NBA career. But he’s poised as a reliable roller in the pick-and-roll, especially with D’Angelo Russell.
He’s living in the restricted area where he’s scored 13 of his 15 buckets this season. He is not unathletic. And he has some post moves.
Zeller, 27, has a two-year deal with a team option next summer, both at the vets minimum. No guarantees either. We aren’t going crazy over two solid games, but he’s played better than any of the other natural 5s on this team.
Their big man situation is desperate and maybe he can help going forward.
Also, the North Carolina product is just rounding into game shape. Zeller was the final piece added to this Nets squad, signing on September 11. He never saw the floor, outside of preseason, until the October 27 game against the Knicks, which amounted to 10 minutes of garbage time.
On the west coast road trip, he’s garnered more meaningful minutes, stemming from the injury bug and Mozgov’s ineffectiveness. Will the minutes be here to stay when the other bigs return? Probably not at this volume. But Zeller’s play could lift the “garbage time only” label when the Nets return to full strength (Jeremy Lin not withstanding).
Then, there’s the big question. Will Kenny Atkinson start Zeller, bailing on Mozgov who makes nearly 10 times as much?