Cody Zeller seems to have the right personality.
Take, for instance, his response to a light-hearted question during the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Before top-seeded Indiana took on 16th-seeded James Madison, a reporter asked Zeller and the boys from Bloomington if they knew the man their opposing school was named after.
After guard Victor Oladipo stumbled through his best guess, Zeller leaned in and quipped to the reporter “Do you know what a Hoosier is?”
Or go back a year earlier. Same setting. This time, Zeller and his teammates were asked if their parents were able to make it to Portland to take in the second round of the 2012 tournament.
“My parents are going to watch Tyler in Greensboro,” Zeller said, “because he's the favorite.”
Tyler Zeller is the 2012 ACC Player of the Year who starred at North Carolina before becoming the 17th pick in last year's NBA Draft. He's three years older than Cody. Ahead of them is Luke, who played at Notre Dame and was on Phoenix's roster for the first half of this season.
That means Cody Zeller has the right pedigree.
And as a versatile, 7-foot power forward/center, Cody also plays the right position.
He's a big man with big-time skills, the perfect blend of basketball characteristics the Thunder needs and might be looking for in the upcoming draft.
“He's got some aspects that are already NBA-ready,” Utah director of player personnel Walt Perrin told reporters following Zeller's recent workout for the Jazz.
Zeller averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots while leading the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16. But because those numbers were only marginally better than his production as a freshman, Zeller failed to live up to much of his preseason hype. That hype had the Hoosiers as the nation's preseason No. 1 team — they suffered three defeats at various points in the season while carrying that ranking — and Zeller pegged by many as the projected top overall pick in this year's draft.
Couple a so-so sophomore season with a disappointing tournament run (Zeller averaged 12 points on 42.3 percent shooting and 6.7 rebounds in three games) and you'll understand why Zeller went from potentially being the top pick to fringe top 10 pick.
But all that means is the Thunder could secure yet another steal if Zeller is still available when OKC is on the clock with the 12th selection.
Emphasis on if Zeller is available.
“The media and GMs have different impressions just because, no offense to (the media), the GMs, that's what they get paid to do,” Zeller said following a workout last week with Portland, which selects 10th. “That's all I'm worried about because they're the ones who are making the decisions.”
It doesn't take a scouting savant to see what makes Zeller so intriguing.
He possesses an excellent combination of size, athleticism and scoring ability, from in deep and potentially the perimeter as well. He plays with great energy, rarely giving up on plays, and complements that hustle with a high basketball IQ.
Where Zeller struggles is with the game's physicality. His lack of strength made it difficult for him to hold his position as a scorer and rebounder, and against longer, more athletic players Zeller had trouble finishing around the rim.
But that's where Zeller's personality and pedigree comes into to play. Many have labeled Zeller a high-character person and hard worker. Indiana coach Tom Crean said at the start of this past season that Zeller returned from his freshman season showing improvement “all over the court.”
“I've always tried to separate myself by how hard I work and how much I win,” Zeller told reporters at the draft combine. “I'm always a big competitor on and off the basketball court, and I think that's what's always separated me.”
While he has admitted he needs to get stronger to combat the increased physicality in the NBA, Zeller's best chance at professional success could be transforming his game and making the transition from a college center to face-up forward in the NBA. Zeller showed a smooth shooting stroke at Indiana and, according to reports, has extended his range to the point he is now comfortably shooting NBA 3-pointers.
“We had so many different weapons at Indiana that I didn't need to do that,” Zeller said. “But at the next level I have to do that. I have that ability. I just didn't show it as much this year.”
Editor's note: As part of the James Harden trade with Houston last October, the Thunder obtained the No. 12 overall selection in the June 27 NBA Draft via Toronto. We look at 12 potential candidates the Thunder might consider taking with that No. 12 pick. Today: Indiana power forward/center Cody Zeller.
Birth date: Oct. 5, 1992
Hometown: Washington, Ind.
2012-13 stats: 16.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.3 bpg, .562 FG, .757 FT
Strengths: Good athlete for his size and position. Runs the floor extremely well. Has a nice shooting touch. Can score inside and out. Classic high motor player. Never gives up on plays. High basketball IQ. Great footwork allows him to defend the pick and roll well. Has a knack for drawing fouls.
Weaknesses: Lacks strength, which hurts him when trying to hold position as a scorer and rebounder. Struggles to score against both length and better athletes. Doesn't protect the basket well as a shot-blocker or man defender in the post.
How he could help the Thunder: Nick Collison isn't getting any younger, and Zeller could someday step into Collison's role as a glue guy off the bench. Zeller would need to spend time learning from Collison, particular the finer points of post defense, but in two years the Thunder could have a versatile energy guy to complement Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Projections: No. 7 (nbadraft.net, hoopshype.com), No. 9 (hoopsworld.com); No. 11 (draftexpress.com, SI.com, espn.com).
Quotable: “I was surprised by as well as he shot the ball from the outside. I anticipated maybe the 15, 18-foot range he'd be pretty decent, which he was, but farther out his shot didn't change. It was the same stroke. It didn't look like he was forcing to get it up there. A lot of big guys who don't shoot that shot a lot, it looks like a real strain, and he didn't. He just shot it normally.” — Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek following Zeller's recent workout with the Suns.