Zeller Shines As Hornets Earn First Playoff Win Since 2002

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

Both the Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers won critical game threes on Saturday, but only one of those games featured a former Hoosier playing in the game.

With not much to report on in regards to Noah Vonleh, today’s edition of Hoosiers In the NBA focuses on Cody Zeller as he continues to play a bigger role than I expected at the start of the series. Let’s check out how he did on Saturday:

 


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Miami leads 2-1)

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes.

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes.

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes.

Despite losing his starting spot to Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller proceeded to have his best playoff game yet as the Charlotte Hornets beat the Miami Heat to earn the franchise’s first playoff win in 14 years*.

(*technically you could say first playoff win ever since the last Hornets team to win a playoff game is the same team that is now the New Orleans Pelicans, but the NBA has given the Hornets the right to keep its city history)

Zeller’s benching had less to do with his performance and more to do with balancing the team. With second-leading scorer Nic Batum out indefinitely, Head Coach Steve Clifford needed more scoring in the starting lineup so he moved up Jefferson. There could have been an argument for Zeller just switching to power forward (which went to rookie Frank Kaminsky) but Kaminsky more than proved his worth by scoring 15 points, nine of which came during a game-changing 18-0 run in the third quarter.

Instead, Zeller responded with playoff career-highs in points (12), rebounds (8), and minutes (26). He also played a huge role in the first half as Jeremy Lin’s pick-and-roll partner. Lin scored 13 of his team-high 18 in the first half with almost all of those points coming off Zeller screens. Zeller also finished with the best plus/minus of any player during Saturday’s game as Charlotte outscored Miami by 18 points when Zeller was on the court.

Maybe what was most impressive, and encouraging for the long haul, was how well Zeller and Kaminsky played together. Although they only played 14 minutes on the court together, the results were outstanding as during that time the Hornets outscored the Heat 37-20, or basically the final scoring margin.

 


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Los Angeles leads 2-1)

Game 1: Los Angeles 115 123, Portland 95

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-2 FG), 2 rebounds, assist, steal, personal foul, 7 minutes.

Game 2: Los Angeles 102, Portland 81

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-1 FG), 1 minute.

Game 3: Portland 96, Los Angeles 88

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

 

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Hoosiers In The NBA: Midseason Lineup Changes

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

The NBA regular season can be split up into three sections. The first section goes from opening night until New Year’s and is when teams play with the personnel they assembled during the offseason. The second section goes from New Year’s until the trade deadline and is the period where teams decide to make changes depending on how the team has performed to that point. The final stretch goes from right after the trade deadline until when the playoffs start and at this point teams have decided whether they’re playing for the postseason or for next season.

We’re right in the middle of that second section and quite a few teams have made moves. While they haven’t all been high-profile moves such as trades, lineup changes are just as critical and happen quite often during this time of the season. This week, I’m going to go over how lineup changes have affected former Hoosiers and their teams. I won’t be going over Eric Gordon’s situation as he is still a few weeks from returning and things will likely change again for the New Orleans Pelicans during that time so there’s no need to speculate how the current lineup changes affect Gordon.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

@ Memphis (L 108-102): 5 points (1-10 FG)(3-3 FT), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 37 minutes.

@ Milwaukee (L 107-100): 18 points (3-7 FG)(10-11 FT), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, steal, 3 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, 30 minutes.

@ Boston (L 113-94): 11 points (2-6 FG)(7-9 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, 28 minutes.

Vs Boston (W 119-114): 11 points (5-13 FG), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.

@ San Antonio (L 107-92): 19 points (6-16 FG)(6-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, 4 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 35 minutes.

@ Oklahoma City (L 117-114): 37 points (13-20 FG)(8-8 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, steal, block, 4 personal fouls, 41 minutes.

Vs Los Angeles Clippers (L 107-93): 18 points (5-12 FG)(7-8 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 4 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 36 minutes.

Vs Atlanta (W 96-94): 19 points (9-13 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, block, 3 turnovers, 44 minutes.

The Orlando Magic are the exception when it comes to waiting until midseason to make lineup changes as it feels like they’ve made a lineup change every other week. However, the latest lineup change brings a lot of intrigue and centers around IU’s own Victor Oladipo.

One of the main reasons Oladipo went to the bench in the first place was because there was no spacing between him and Elfrid Payton this season because Oladipo wasn’t a threat from deep. Instead, Evan Fournier and his 39% shooting from behind the arc started at shooting guard. It made sense later in the season that Oladipo returned to the starting lineup when Payton was out with an injury but with the recent lineup change they’re back to playing together again.

The reason for the change of heart is that Oladipo has found his three-point shot again and has been able to create the space needed for this offense to flow. Over the first two months of the season, Oladipo only connected on 26.9% (28 of 104) of his three-pointers. Since the start of January, Oladipo has been a scorching 45.3% (34 of 75) from behind the arc. It took a little while to see if this was an improvement or just a good shooting streak and after 75 attempts I think it’s safe to say it’s improvement.

While Fournier may still be a better shooter, Oladipo offers more versatility both on offense and defense. Fournier is a good enough ball-handler to take over Oladipo’s sixth man role and if he’s shooting lights out during a certain game he can easily transition to playing with the starters as a spot-up shooter. It’s also possible to play Fournier and Oladipo together like they did against the Atlanta Hawks because both can defend shooting guards and small forwards, although Oladipo guards both a little better.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

@ Sacramento (W 129-128): DNP – injury

@ Utah (L 102-73): DNP – injury

@ Portland (L 109-91): DNP – injury

@ Los Angeles Lakers (W 101-82): DNP – injury

Vs Cleveland (W 106-97): 6 points (3-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, block, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.

Vs Miami (L 98-95): 6 points (2-7 FG)(2-3 FT), 8 rebounds, steal, block, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 25 minutes.

Vs Washington (W 108-104): 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-2 FT), 9 rebounds, assist, 3 steals, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 30 minutes.

A lot of things have been going on with the Charlotte Hornets and they all affect Cody Zeller in one way or another. While Zeller continues to flourish as the Hornets’ starting center, quite a few people have already affected and will continue to affect his production going forward.

The main person affecting Zeller’s production, mostly in the form of playing time, is Frank Kaminsky. The rookie big man has finally gotten past the first-year jitters and is showing a lot of promise. Since the start of December, Kaminsky has been averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in 24.5 minutes after averaging only 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 14.6 minutes over the first month of the season. The problem for Zeller is that Kaminsky really eats into Zeller’s minutes when the rookie is having a great game. Part of that is the Hornets trying to get Kaminsky playing experience and the other part is that Zeller has been in foul trouble quite frequently. I still honestly believe that Zeller and Kaminsky can play together in the future with Kaminsky at power forward but with a positional logjam at the power forward position, Kaminsky is a center for the time being.

Speaking of positional logjams, there’s about to be one at center now that Kaminsky is earning playing time and Al Jefferson is only a week or two away from returning to play. Jefferson makes things really complicated as the Hornets really want to keep him because of his post scoring but other than that both Zeller and Kaminsky are actually better options at center. Charlotte may have to make a tough decision at the trade deadline as I don’t think you can keep all three in addition to power forwards Marvin Williams and Spencer Hawes.

That brings us to the last lineup change, which is the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG is a welcomed addition for Zeller because he takes some of the defensive pressure off Zeller. Kidd-Gilchrist could also help Zeller commit fewer fouls by at least making sure his man doesn’t drive to the rim. It’s just a shame that not long after MKG came back that Zeller may have to return to the bench if Jefferson is given his starting spot back. For now, let’s enjoy them playing together.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

Vs Sacramento (W 112-97): 10 points (5-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 personal fouls, 23 minutes.

Vs Charlotte (W 109-91): 6 points (3-6 FG), 6 rebounds, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 19 minutes.

Vs Minnesota (W 96-93): 2 points (1-4 FG), 8 rebounds, block, 16 minutes.

Vs Milwaukee (W 107-95): 0 points (0-1 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 personal fouls, 16 minutes.

Vs Toronto (L 110-103): DNP – injury

@ Houston (W 96-79): DNP – injury

While I said I wouldn’t touch on how the Pelican’s lineup changes affect Gordon because he’s injured, the same can’t be said for Noah Vonleh. While Vonleh has missed the Portland Trail Blazers last two games and will likely miss a third (he’s listed as doubtful for Monday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies with an ankle injury), lineup changes affect him a lot more than Gordon because Vonleh’s starting spot is nowhere near as guaranteed as Gordon’s spot.

Whether or not Vonleh will remain a starter may depend on how replacement Maurice Harkless does during Vonleh’s absence. Harkless didn’t do much during his first game against the Toronto Raptors but he did play very well on Saturday against the Houston Rockets as he produced 14 points and six rebounds.

The good news for Vonleh is that the Trail Blazers are very focused on developing him and he has also played some solid basketball over the past month (5.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in January). However, the longer Vonleh stays out , the more opportunities Harkless has to make a claim for Vonleh’s starting spot.

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

Vs Houston (L 112-111): DNP – injury

Vs Sacramento (W 114-105): DNP – injury

Vs Brooklyn (W 105-103): DNP – injury

Vs Memphis (L 110-95): DNP – injury

@ San Antonio (L 110-97): DNP – injury

Vs Los Angeles Lakers (L 99-96): DNP – injury

@ Cleveland (L 99-84): DNP – injury

Season averages:

Eric Gordon: 14.9ppg, 2.1rpg, 2.7apg, 0.95spg, 0.29bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.0% FG, 37.7% 3FG, 88.5% FT, 33.4mpg.

Victor Oladipo: 14.5ppg, 4.7rpg, 4.0apg, 1.33spg, 0.57bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.3fpg, 41.9% FG, 34.6% 3FG, 84.6% FT, 31.1mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 0.5apg, 0.46spg, 0.30bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.0fpg, 42.9% FG, 16.0% 3FG, 81.3% FT, 16.0mpg.

Cody Zeller: 8.8ppg, 6.0rpg, 0.9apg, 0.91spg, 0.70bpg, 0.9tpg, 3.0fpg, 48.9% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 73.8% FT, 25.0mpg.

Hoosiers In The NBA: Vonleh In Rip City And How The 2015 NBA Draft Affected Former Hoosiers

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course things are completely optional but are greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

A lot has changed since the last edition of Hoosiers In The NBA: The Golden State Warriors are the new NBA champions, I started a new blog, the 2015 NBA Draft took place, and Noah Vonleh just moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific. As you can see there is a lot to catch up on so I will be breaking this into two parts. Today I will go over how the NBA Draft affected current Hoosiers playing in the NBA and Thursday I will give a more in-depth look on how Vonleh will fit long-term with the Portland Trail Blazers. However, I will go over how the draft affected Vonleh in this part. Buckle up as we dive into four teams’ drafts and then analyze how the new kids on the block will affect four former Hoosiers:

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

2014-2015 stats (Charlotte Hornets): 3.3ppg, 3.4rpg, 0.2apg, 0.16spg, 0.36bpg, 0.4tpg, 0.8fpg, 39.5% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 69.2% FT, 10.3mpg. (25 games)

I’ll save most of what I have to say about Vonleh for part 2, but his new team made a very interesting move during the draft. After drafting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with the 23rd pick, the Blazers packaged him with veteran guard Steve Blake and shipped them to Brooklyn for the 41st pick (which became Pat Connaughton) and center Mason Plumlee. While initially this looked bad for Vonleh, after further consideration I think this may work out very well. With current center Robin Lopez an unrestricted free agent, Plumlee slides right into the starting lineup and avoids having to play power forward (which is the only position Vonleh can play at this time).

I’ll get more into the LaMarcus Aldridge situation on Thursday but the short version is that Vonleh’s playing dramatically increases if Aldridge leaves, with the outside chance of Vonleh even getting to start. Plumlee’s low post play makes him a great match to Vonleh’s shooting range, making them a promising high-low combo. Connaughton provides Portland with another shooter and someone to space the floor so Vonleh can have more wide-open looks from deep. Vonleh’s situation in Portland just looks better and better with every move the Blazers make.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

2014-2015 stats: 7.6ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.6apg, 0.56spg, 0.79bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.5fpg, 46.1% FG, 100.0% 3FG, 77.4% FT, 24.0mpg. (62 games)

While it was a shame we never really got to see him play with Vonleh, Cody Zeller really benefitted from Vonleh’ s departure and was set to be a lock at starting power forward next season (the newly-acquired Spencer Hawes being more of a versatile big man off the bench capable of playing either position and Marvin Williams usually played much better when he was coming off the bench).

Then the Hornets drafted Frank Kaminsky with the ninth overall pick.

Now we’re back in the same situation we had a week ago but this time substitute in Kaminsky for Vonleh. Kaminsky may have played center at Wisconsin but he won’t be playing any other position than power forward in the NBA. Which begs the question: who is the odd man out? Unlike Vonleh, the “too raw to play” argument doesn’t fit Kaminsky and with pressure to win now he will probably be forced to play so management can validate his selection. Al Jefferson is the team leader and franchise player so he’s not going anywhere in the near future and they just acquired Hawes. That leaves Zeller and Williams and I hate to say it but the signs point toward Zeller. Before Vonleh was traded, it was Zeller that management was shopping in order to get a sharpshooting wing. Obviously players get shopped around and remain on their current teams all the time but the drafting of Kaminsky almost seemed like a message. It was a message that Zeller hasn’t proven he has enough range to play power forward for the Hornets.

I really hope I’m wrong because the idea of a Zeller/Kaminsky inside/outside combo in the future sounds very intriguing and is actually plausible when you consider Zeller’s vast improvement on defense and the mismatches he could have against opposing centers because of his athleticism. I just don’t think the Hornets have the patience to keep them together.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

2014-2015 stats: 17.9ppg, 4.2rpg, 4.10apg, 1.67spg, 0.26bpg, 2.8tpg, 2.60fpg, 43.6% FG, 33.9% 3FG, 81.9% FT, 35.7mpg. (72 games)

Don’t let the fact that both Orlando Magic draftees Mario Hezonja and Tyler Harvey are listed as shooting guards fool you: Victor Oladipo’s starting spot is not in danger. In fact, both of them make his life easier for different reasons.

Hezonja is an excellent shooter and immediately becomes one of the Magic’s best three-point shooters. It will take a couple of games for opposing teams to adjust but when they recognize him as a threat from deep it will create wider driving lanes for Oladipo and fellow guard Elfrid Payton. While both (especially Oladipo) are improving their shooting range, their best offensive weapon is their ability to get to the basket. Hezonja will immediately become a great pick-and-roll partner for both guards, especially Oladipo as Hezonja is also really skilled at getting to the basket thus letting them switch between roles on multiple pick-and-rolls. Also, because he is 6’8” and athletic, he should be able to slide into the small forward position and play right alongside Oladipo.

As a late second round pick, Harvey never posed a threat to Oladipo’s starting spot but he may end up helping Oladipo a lot. Oladipo averaged 38.5 minutes per game after the All-Star break, putting quite a few unnecessary miles on his legs. While Oladipo is always in fantastic shape, you could tell by the end of the season he was running out of gas as his shooting percentage went down (40.2% during the final 10 games) and his turnovers increased (averaged 3.4 turnovers over the final 10 games). If Harvey can provide some scoring while Oladipo is on the bench, it should be able to keep him fresh enough over the course of the season to let him finish the season strong and even maintain his performance level if the Magic are able to make the playoffs.

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

2014-2015 stats: 13.4ppg, 2.61rpg, 3.8apg, 0.82spg, 0.23bpg, 2.0tpg, 2.4fpg, 41.1% FG, 44.8% 3FG, 80.5% FT, 33.1mpg. (61 games)

The New Orleans Pelicans had only one draft pick, thanks to the Omar Asik trade, of which they used on Branden Dawson. However that was short-lived as Dawson was trade away to the Los Angeles Clippers for cash. While a future draft pick would have been nicer, trading away Dawson for cash was a decent deal for the Pelicans. New Orleans is in win-now mode with Anthony Davis ready to make his claim as the best player in the NBA and roster spots should be reserved for veteran role players that can help Davis lead this team to a deep playoff run.

One of those guys is former Hoosier Eric Gordon, who earlier this month opted-in to the final year of his contract which is worth 15.5 million. The decision was a no-brainer for Gordon but to the Pelicans it will be seen as bad news financially. However, if Gordon plays all of next season at a similar level to how he performed in the playoffs, I’m sure all will be forgiven.