TERRE HAUTE —
Ever the jokester, Cody Zeller made light of his situation when he called in to the Dan Dakich radio show Monday.
“As of right now, I’m homeless, I’m a college dropout and I’m unemployed,” Zeller said.
That will change tonight when Zeller gets selected in the NBA Draft.
Zeller and Victor Oladipo are both potential lottery picks in the draft. It will be the first time since 2008 that Indiana has had two players taken in the first round.
Eric Gordon, who left IU after his freshman season, and D.J. White were both first-round picks in 2008 — the fourth time the Hoosiers had at least two players taken in the first round.
Noted more for his defensive prowess in his first two seasons at IU, Oladipo improved his offense dramatically as a junior.
The Maryland native averaged 9.2 ppg while shooting 49.8 percent from the field, 24.3 percent on 3-pointers, in his first two seasons. Last season, he averaged 13.6 ppg while shooting 59.9 percent from the field and 44.1 percent on 3s.
As the season went on, Oladipo’s NBA stock continued to rise, but he said that he didn’t decide to forego his final season of eligibility until after the Hoosiers’ season ended with a loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen.
He’s since become a consensus lottery pick in mock drafts. While most mock drafts have Oladipo being drafted either fifth or sixth, by Phoenix or New Orleans respectively, a Washington Post mock draft published Tuesday had Oladipo going second overall to Orlando.
On the off-chance that Cleveland selects Oladipo with the first overall pick, he would be the third Hoosier to go No. 1, following Walt Bellamy (1961) and Kent Benson (1977). A poll of NBA general managers and scouts by ESPN’s Chad Ford had Oladipo as the top player in the draft, although that doesn’t necessarily equate to being the No. 1 pick.
While his offense has improved, it still remains a work in progress. Oladipo’s immediate success in the NBA will come thanks to his skills as a defender. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and NABC National Co-Defensive Player of the Year will be able to defend three positions in the NBA, which could make him an immediate impact player.
While Oladipo’s stock rose quickly over the past year, his fellow early entrant, Zeller, saw his stock drop some.
There’s concern about what position the 6-foot-10 Zeller will play in the NBA. Does he have the bulk to play center as a pro, or will he be a better fit at power forward? And does he have the outside shooting touch to succeed at the four?
Zeller would have been a lottery pick had he entered the NBA Draft after his freshman season, but he chose to return to help lead the Hoosiers in another shot at a national title. But the extra year of college may not have helped his draft stock; he’s not a consensus Top-10 pick.
Some of that can be attributed to how he was deployed in Indiana’s offense. Most of his shots came inside the paint, and he attempted just two 3-pointers as a Hoosier, both this season. He missed both.
But given the chance to develop and show his midrange skills, Zeller should be a good investment, wherever he ends up being selected. And while he’ll need to keep bulking up to keep from being muscled around in the low post, his quickness in the open court will help him survive the change to the NBA.
Of Indiana’s three other NBA-eligible players, only Christian Watford will likely get a chance to make a roster, and he’ll have to do so as a free agent. The ESPY award winner for his game-winning shot against Kentucky in December 2011 isn’t expected to be drafted.
Watford considered entering the NBA Draft a year ago but chose to return for his senior season. Oladipo’s growth overshadowed Watford’s steady play; he scored in double-digits in 17 straight games last season.
“You don’t come out here and try to overdo things,” Watford said after he worked out for the Indiana Pacers. “You try to tweak everything they say you can’t do.
“I don’t regret coming back at all.”
Jordan Hulls has also worked out for the Pacers and a few other teams, but his size (6-0) could preclude his chances of making an NBA roster.