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NBA SUMMER LEAGUE: Charlotte Bobcats 86, Dallas Mavericks 80

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Cody Zeller’s comfort level rises in 1st summer-league win in Las Vegas

Zeller finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and a block in Sunday's summer-league game

By Rick Bonnell
rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com

LAS VEGAS Fast as Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford hopes Cody Zeller develops, he’s wary of overloading the rookie with data.

“What we’re doing with him is a little different than the other three guys’’ under contract, Clifford said following an 86-80 summer-league victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

“We’re just kind of letting him feel his way. He’s so smart, and the (NBA) rules are different. He’s so bright that you can see every time you practice, he figures something else out.’’

Zeller, the fourth overall pick, finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and a block. He improved dramatically from his first game, when he totaled eight points and five rebounds.

Some of that was simply about shooting. He missed a bunch of jumpers Friday against the San Antonio Spurs that fell through Sunday. But it was also about Zeller’s comfort level in the high-post sets the Bobcats are implementing to let him be a passer-shooter.

That’s very different from the way he played so close to the basket in two seasons at Indiana. But the Bobcats knew when they drafted Zeller he had a wider skill set than he got the chance to display with the Hoosiers.

“You don’t want to be thinking too much. I’ve played basketball all my life. Sometimes you’ve just got to go out there and play,’’ Zeller said of bouncing back from first-game jitters.

“(Playing away from the basket) is not a huge adjustment for me. I was doing it some in practice in college and in high school.’’

The Bobcats led by as much as 25 and never trailed in this game. But Clifford’s happiness was more about Zeller’s quick progress than about winning a summer-league game with no tangible stakes.

“He did everything – he moved the ball and made good decisions,” Clifford said. “His rebounding was great: Thirteen, and 11 were defensive. He went and got it.

“He’s so smart. And he’s a lot more skilled than people understand. His intelligence, combined with his skill level, will translate pretty quickly.’’

Clifford relied heavily on his four “keepers’’ – Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Taylor – playing each one a minimum of 26 minutes. Five of the 10 players as summer-league tryouts didn’t play Sunday.

Taylor, who scored 24 in the Spurs game, followed that up with 19 points and five rebounds against the Mavericks. That Taylor played well was somewhat expected; Zeller’s dramatic leap from first to second game was more eye-opening.

“It’s going to be up-and-down,’’ Zeller said. “I’m a rookie trying to figure things out. Things went well tonight. I was patient, I didn’t try to force anything.’’

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