San Antonio Spurs: Why did newly-signed center Tyler Zeller fall out of the league?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 21: Tyler Zeller #44 of the Celtics, who recently signed with the San Antonio Spurs, warms up prior to Game Three of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on May 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 21: Tyler Zeller #44 of the Celtics, who recently signed with the San Antonio Spurs, warms up prior to Game Three of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on May 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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To fill a gap in place of the injured LaMarcus Aldridge, the San Antonio Spurs signed Tyler Zeller to a contract last week. Why was he available?

Now a month out from the NBA’s intricate plan to resume in an Orlando Bubble later this month, the San Antonio Spurs needed to fill a major gap as LaMarcus Aldridge nurses an injured shoulder. They looked in the direction of center Tyler Zeller, who played six games last season and none this year. Obviously he’s good enough for a highly-regarded organization to call on him, so why did Zeller get booted from the league in the first place?

Last season, Zeller logged a grand total of 93 minutes across two teams and put up decent numbers. His Per 36 stat line was 17.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals while hitting 53.3 percent of his 30 field goal attempts. He wasn’t a commodity that anyone sought after in the open market and was only signed out of desperation by a team that’s not likely to give him minutes.

Zeller is a solid player who would’ve had a career that’d last 10+ years in a past version of the NBA, but isn’t fit for the modern NBA. He’s a good finisher who made 66.8 percent of his shots from within three feet from the basket in his last two seasons, but he’s a non-factor outside of that. He’s 10-for-35 from beyond the arc in 412 career games and has shot about 41 percent from his few field goal attempts outside of 10-feet.

San Antonio had an open roster. Tyler Zeller will earn $245,686 for the remainder of the season. Spurs will have a cap hit of $183,115. https://t.co/mOlFFgUikH

— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) June 24, 2020

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You can carve out a role in the league as a center who lives near the rim, but you have to excel as a defender and rebounder. Zeller is a moderate rebounder who never showed anything of interest on defense. He’s never averaged more than 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes, meaning there’s nothing there as a rim defender. There’s no upside for him as a switchable defender or one that can take on other big men one-on-one.

Up to this point in his career, Zeller hasn’t done anything besides set picks and score near the basket. Imagine that Jakob Poeltl was about 75 percent of himself as a scorer, 60 percent of himself as a rebounder and 25 percent of himself as a defender. It’s just not an ideal situation.

Even though San Antonio gave itself the chance to retain him through next season with a non-guaranteed second-year, something tells me he’s not going to get it. Zeller is 30-years-old and has had plenty of time to prove himself worthy of legitimate NBA minutes. It’d be baffling if he gets significant minutes in Orlando while second-rounder Chimezie Metu played 73 minutes this season.

Next. It's time to get Chimezie Metu some NBA minutes

Then again, wilder things have happened, but one thing’s for sure: Zeller isn’t going to save the Spurs’ season.

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