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How Tyler Zeller has gone from sleeper to keeper

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t noticed, and it’s possible that you haven’t, Tyler Zeller is also taking advantage of his time with the Nets, otherwise known as “The Island of Misfit NBA Toys.” as one pundit put it.

I mean, they’re probably not known as that, but they should be.

We’ve written about what Brooklyn’s culture has done to benefit guys like Spencer Dinwiddie, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, D’Angelo Russell and Joe Harris ... ad-nauseam. We’ve even discussed what it can do for Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas.

Meanwhile, Zeller, who was signed on September 11, has become the team’s starting center over Timofey Mozgov, a player who the Nets are paying an average of $16 million a year 2020.

Zeller, 27, has also become of the Nets’ key performers as of late.

“It feels good to be starting,” Zeller said Thursday. “We've got a good thing going in that first group and hopefully we continue to do that. We've got to continue to grow. Obviously nights like tonight make you look back and see what we could've done better but we've got to continue to find ways to win."

Could he do more needed?

"I'll do whatever he (Atkinson) asks. Whether it's 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 24 minutes, I'm happy to help our team anyway possible. He (Atkinson) does a great job of playing everybody, giving us all a chance to be fresh and play at the maximum that we can. I'm just happy to be here and happy to help our team in anyway possible."

Since November 24, a 10-game stretch, Zeller has put up 9.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and is shooting 65%, playing 20.7 minutes per contest. On a per 36-minute basis, the averages move to 16.7 points and 10.6 rebounds.

Over those 10 games, in which the Nets have gone 5-5, Zeller has never scored fewer than seven points, while putting up as many as 12 on multiple occasions. (Before he started, back on November 7, he had a 21 point game, his highest scoring game since 2015.) Similarly, Zeller has grabbed at least five boards in every game, and has topped out at nine.

It’s not sexy, but it’s consistent.

Before Zeller registered nine points and eight rebounds in Nets’ Thursday night loss to the Knicks, Kenny Atkinson extended his gratitude to the University of North Carolina alum ... and NCAA champ in 2009.

"We never talk about him either. He's just been the consummate pro,” Atkinson offered of Zeller. “He was a starter on a Celtic team that went to the playoffs. He's got good experience so he's come in here from day one, been real quiet and just goes about his work every day.”

Atkinson was also complimentary of Zeller’s contributions, which have found him anchoring an upgraded Nets defense.

“He just keeps improving but I do think he has a part of our defense getting better,” said the Net head coach. “He's been in this league a while. He understands tendencies. He's bringing the physicality to our defense. Maybe the best thing, he's a great guy to be around. He just never complains. Never complained from day one. He just accepted his role and keeps knocking it down every day.”

Zeller may lose some minutes when Jahlil Okafor finally gets on court, but Atkinson being Atkinson, don’t expect him to be forgotten. As Lil’ Wayne once said; ‘real G’s move in silence (like lasagna).’ You know, robust individuals.