Covering the draft is always about finding the next big thing, the sleeper who could outperform expectations or a mid-major prospect that could surprise when playing at a higher level of competition. This year, UNLV center Stephen Zimmerman fits the bill as one of the biggest sleepers in this draft class, and it appears he’s finally found some rhythm in his game during the conference portion of the schedule. Over Zimmerman’s last six games, the talented big man is averaging 13.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, easily his best stretch of his freshman season thus far.
That last stat is what brings his most intrigue to the NBA level as a potential small-ball center. Zimmerman’s ability to block shots and stretch the floor offensively fit the new-age mold of NBA basketball. At 7-0 and 240 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan, Zimmerman has plenty of size and athletic ability to make it in the NBA.
However, Zimmerman has been a bit inconsistent as a shooter during his freshman season, as he’s just shooting 35.6 percent on two-point jump shots per hoop-math.com. It doesn’t get much better when Zimmerman shoots from three-point range, where he’s knocking down 35.7 percent of his attempts on only 14 attempts all season. One of the positives, though: Zimmerman has hit on 60.3 percent of his attempts near the rim, which is promising given his physical gifts.
Zimmerman has the quickness and athleticism defensively to close down on perimeter defenders and stick with them while sliding his feet thanks to his lateral foot speed. These are the types of things that will help him stick in the league and defend the pick and roll, something so important for new age NBA basketball. What him close and stick with a smaller big man against Oregon and come up with the block on 6-10 combo forward Chris Boucher:
Zimmerman is also an unselfish and willing passer from the high post or three-point line, showing the touch to find teammates in difficult positions for easier buckets. This is promising for his NBA future, although he needs to work on not coughing the ball up as much (40 turnovers this season to just 16 assists). Here’s some nice action against Oregon and a pinpoint pass for the assist:
UNLV uses Zimmerman in many different ways at all three levels on the offensive end. His versatility will be key in his transition to the NBA, but he’ll need to gain consistency in that jump shot before becoming a major contributor at the next level. Zimmerman also could stand to add some weight (10 pounds or so) to his lengthy frame, which will help him with bulkier centers defensively without losing too much quickness or athleticism.
Right now, Zimmerman reminds me of a more polished Meyers Leonard at the same stage of development. He’s got two-way potential, and could be a dominant shot-blocking presence on defense while stretching the floor to the three-point line offensively. Zimmerman’s fluidity and athleticism separate him from other stiff big men, and should allow him to thrive in the NBA.
Right now, Zimmerman comes in at number 15 on NBADraft.net’s mock, number 20 on DraftExpress, and number 31 on Chad Ford’s Top 100. When workouts and measurements are done, look for Zimmerman to jump up draft boards. With additional strength and more offensive consistency, Zimmerman could become quite the player at the NBA level.