INDEPENDENCE: After the formal part of practice concluded on Friday, Tyler Zeller went off to the side and worked with player development assistant Aubrey McCreary on ball-handling tricks.
McCreary, himself a magician with a basketball, had Zeller transfer a miniature ball from one hand to the other while simultaneously dribbling a regulation basketball between hands.
Zeller fumbled with the drill at first, but it didn’t take long for him to get the hang of it, which perfectly illustrates how his rookie season is progressing.
Although he shot just 2-of-10, Zeller grabbed 10 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over the Boston Celtics and now has 24 in his past two games. He is averaging 11 in his past three games. Zeller still has a long way to go in both game and stature, but he has adjusted nicely since Anderson Varejao fell out of the lineup with his knee injury.
Zeller is averaging 10 points and 7.6 rebounds in 17 starts, although he is shooting just 38 percent. He has also been manhandled at times by more physical centers like Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins, which is why he is dedicating this summer to bulking up.
“I definitely need to get tougher,” Zeller said. “I think some of it is going to come as I mature and as I get stronger. Right now I’m kind of undersized for a 5 man [center]. I do what I can, but at the same time you can’t really overpower too many people in this league. I’ve definitely got some work to do, but I don’t know that I can do that work right now. I have to wait until the offseason.”
Nearly all players lose weight during the course of the season as a by-product of all the running. Zeller came to training camp at 248 pounds — the biggest he’s ever been — but said he’s down to 240. He’d like to get up near 260, but said he can’t pack it on all at once or he’ll lose the quickness and agility that makes him valuable now.
Zeller has a problem most people in America would love: He has struggled putting on weight most of his life. He said Wednesday he has always struggled with body fat, as in not having enough of it. But he has also consistently added weight every year. He was 210 when he arrived at North Carolina as a freshman and incrementally added about 40 pounds throughout college. He believes that can continue beginning this summer with a strength program.
“I’d like to be able to maintain more and more weight every year,” he said. “Last offseason was weird. I had to get settled in one place and I really didn’t have a chance to focus on weightlifting and all of that. Hopefully this summer, I’ll be able to do that more.”
Zeller said the most physical center he has faced this season, not surprisingly, was the Lakers’ Howard. He only played across from Howard for a few minutes in their December meeting in Cleveland, but Zeller drew the unenviable task of wrestling Howard in his first game back from a shoulder injury.
Howard appeared more keyed up in his return game, at times flinging Zeller around with one arm.
“As far as strength and physical prowess, that’s as high as it gets,” Zeller said. “At some point in time, I’d like to be able to not go into the game and be completely undersized against him. Hopefully in my career, I get to that point. I’m not there yet. There’s no stopping him, but hopefully I at least can hold my own a little better.”
With the recent news that Varejao is lost for the season, the starting job is Zeller’s for the remainder of the season. It’s a good crash course that Scott believes will pay off in the future.
“I think Tyler is playing pretty well,” Scott said. “His mid-range game, his shooting for a big man, I think that is going to continue to get better and better. He’s an excellent decision maker, makes pretty good passes … he makes mistakes, but he’s pretty hard on himself. I love what he’s been doing.”
Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby did not practice with the Cavs on Wednesday because they hadn’t completed their physicals in time and the Cavs and Grizzlies did not sign off on the trade yet that brought the them to Cleveland.
They are expected to practice today, which will make them available for Friday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Scott’s rule is all players must practice first before playing.
Scott conceded one practice isn’t enough to get them up to speed on everything, but learning the defensive terminology will be key. The Cavs’ standard pick-and-roll offense shouldn’t be difficult for them to grasp.
The Cavs ranked 16th out of the league’s 30 teams on Forbes’ annual list of the NBA’s franchise values.
Forbes projected the Cavs to be worth $434 million and to make a profit of $19 million this season. The Cavs were ranked 18th on last year’s list at a perceived value of $329 million.
Executives within the league often dismiss the annual Forbes report as inaccurate and speculative.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.