Can Cody Zeller solve the New Orleans Pelicans’ problems?

Cody Zeller, Miami Heat. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Cody Zeller, Miami Heat. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Coming into this off-season, we knew the New Orleans Pelicans would need to address two areas: shooting and rim protection. During the draft, the Pelicans focused on the former category, adding sharpshooter Jordan Hawkins with their first-round pick (and signing undrafted guard Landers Nolley II).

That meant that the rest of the off-season would be spent allocating resources toward adding some rim protection to their frontline. So far, the only major addition they have made in free agency is adding Cody Zeller on a one-year deal.

But the question now becomes: does Zeller address the Pelicans’ rim protection problem? To answer this riddle, we’ll take a look at the three statistics for measuring a player’s rim protection ability that we identified in a previous post (be sure to check that out right here).

1. Block Percentage (BLK%)

According to Cleaning the Glass, Zeller was in the 25th percentile in block percentage (BLK%) among bigs last season. Some may counter that this is a result of a small sample size (he only played 217 non-garbage time minutes last year). However, he’s been in the 25th percentile or lower in this category in each of the last four seasons.

2. DIFF (inside of six feet)

In 2022-23, opponents shot 2.5% better than expected (aka “DIFF”) on shots contested inside of six feet by Zeller. The year before, opponents had a DIFF of +3.4% on shots contested by Zeller inside of six feet. As a reminder, having a positive DIFF score is not a good sign when estimating a player’s rim protection ability.

But as we’ll soon see with the third statistic we look at, Zeller performed much better in this area from 2018 to 2021. In each of those seasons, opponents had a negative DIFF (which is a good thing when looking at rim protection).

3. On/Off Opponent Rim Frequency

Last year, Zeller finished in the 15th percentile in opponent on/off rim frequency (per Cleaning the Glass). The year before, he was in the 16th percentile in this category. But before that, he was in the 74th percentile or higher in this area every year from 2018 to 2021. So, maybe he can rekindle some of his rim deterrence value from his days with the Charlotte Hornets.

Overall, it seems like Zeller was a solid rim protector a few years ago but has fallen off a good bit over the last two seasons. There’s a chance that he sees a return to form in 2023-24 with the Pelicans. But even if he does, his rim protection during his glory days wasn’t at the level where he could completely reshape the landscape of the Pelicans’ defense.

Next. 10 Players the Pelicans gave up on way too soon. dark