After posting career-highs in points (10.3) rebounds (6.5) and minutes (27.8) per game last season for the Charlotte Hornets, it appeared as though Cody Zeller finally began to show some progression in his fourth professional campaign.
However, when the Hornets traded for Dwight Howard this past summer, Zeller became the odd man out of the starting five and was sent to the bench, battling for minutes alongside fellow big man Frank Kaminsky.
Although the 7’0”, 240-pound center started 58 of his 62 games played last year, he has managed just 19.9 minutes per game this season (the lowest mark since he was a rookie in 2013-2014) and he has made a minimal impact in the box score, posting 7.2 points and 5.5 boards per contest. But, he has provided a great deal of energy on both ends of the floor, which is what his role demands.
Charlotte signed Zeller to a four-year, $56 million extension last season and will be under team control until the summer of 2021. When he finalized the deal, he called it “crazy” based on how much money the team offered him.
Unfortunately, Hornets fans will now be driven crazy as the team announced that Zeller will be out indefinitely after tearing his meniscus in a December 6 contest against the Golden State Warriors. The team noted that Zeller will have an opportunity to explore treatment options, thus suggesting his time away could be a lengthy stint.
To add insult to injury, Kaminsky, who is averaging 10.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game this season, sprained his ankle in that same game and will miss Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls and could potentially be out longer.
That leaves the 9-14 Hornets incredibly shorthanded behind Howard and power forward Marvin Williams. In fact, Johnny O’Bryant III is the only other true power forward or center listed on the active roster. As a result, Williams and Howard could be thrust into heavy minutes despite their advanced ages and all of the wear and tear they have accrued over the course of their respective careers.
Although the Hornets’ offense runs mainly though Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum and Howard, Zeller’s absence will certainly create immediate depth issues in the frontcourt. However, if Kaminsky can regain health in his ankle soon, Charlotte will be able to survive on the second unit, as Jeremy Lamb and Michael Carter-Williams also come off the bench, where Kaminsky will now undoubtedly take on more minutes.
This has been a tough week for the Hornets franchise. Earlier, coach Steve Clifford announced a leave of absence from the team for health reasons. Now, they’ll be without Zeller for an extended period of time.