Stephen Zimmerman Jr. NBA Draft Profile

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Stephen Zimmerman Jr. – 7’0” Center, UNLV, 19 years old

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels have produced some NBA talent for the last few years, something that they failed to do for a while. If there’s one thing that former head coach Dave Rice can call a success, it is that he produced four NBA players during his time there. Two more UNLV players are being considered strong first round talent and are likely to get drafted. Patrick McCaw was a bit of surprise and could be the best 3-and-D player in the draft. Stephen Zimmerman Jr. though, is the more known name and player, but has fallen a bit since he was a top college recruit out of Bishop Gorman High School. Despite falling in the rankings, Zimmerman is still one of the more polished big men entering the draft, and should be taken in the first round.

Strengths

With the way the NBA style of play has changed, the most intriguing skill that Zimmerman brings to a team is his shooting. With more and more teams expecting their big men to have reliable outside jump shots, Zimmerman fits that bill perfectly. He is one of the best shooting big men in the draft, with room to improve as well. Zimmerman’s mid range shot is his best attribute on offense and was very valuable during the season. Zimmerman took the most mid range shots out of anyone else on the UNLV roster, making 38% of them. That’s a good number, and he does have a wide shooting range on the court. To take his game to the next level, he needs to knock down his shots more often. 

His IQ seems to be pretty high; throughout the season he made the right decisions in pick and roll offense, knowing when to slide down, pop out for the jumper, or roll to the basket. His post game is more NBA-ready than most of the other big men in the draft. He has an arsenal of ball fakes, jab steps, and spins at his disposal.

Defense

Zimmerman isn’t the most athletic big in the draft, but still has a great eye for the ball and his shot blocking ability showed with his 1.9 blocks per game average. He did everything right on the defensive side of the ball that he was physically able to do, blocking shots, rebounding, and defending the paint. Zimmerman holds his own against opposing big men. Despite his 0.8 assists per game, Zimmerman has great vision, something that is very valuable in the NBA as well. It’s hard to rack up assists when the team around him didn’t have more than one other reliable scorer. Zimmerman averaged 8.8 rebounds a game, and can improve on those numbers by bulking up.

Weaknesses 

The glaring problem with Zimmerman’s overall game is his lack of strength. Although his 240 pound frame isn’t small, it’s not what it needs to be to compete with the men in the NBA. Zimmerman struggled with finishing at the rim last year. The problem looked more like a lack of strength than a lack of skill. He shot 59.4% at the rim which just isn’t good enough for a big man. In the 2016 NBA Draft, Zimmerman is ranked 11th in that stat, with Skal Labissiere the next spot above him with 67.4%. Number one on that list is A.J. Hammons out of Purdue who posted an 87.7% mark scoring around the rim.

Hitting the weights will help Zimmerman tremendously in the NBA. He does everything right on the defensive end that he can. With more strength, he can be even better. When matched up against bigger big men, Zimmerman struggled to stop them bullying their way to the rim, although he still played great defense. It is just a matter of strength.

Turnovers

Moving on to another weakness, Zimmerman turned the ball over too much. What contributed to that was his desire to dribble down the court on fast breaks. He got the ball too far from the basket and tried to beat defenders off the dribble. He can dribble, but that doesn’t mean that a big man like him should be doing it that much.

The last problem that might not be a problem is durability. Whether Zimmerman has injury issues remains to be seen, but the fact is he was out for a significant time that contributed to him sliding down on the prospect list. He did come back later in the year, when most players would have sat out the rest of the season. Whether it was the smart move or not is irrelevant now. Zimmerman is a competitor who wanted to get back on the floor with his team.

NBA Potential 

Zimmerman was a top five recruit for a reason. He has the skills to be a good starting big man in the league, at the 4 or 5 spot. His shooting touch is a great weapon and will be valuable in the NBA. This is especially true if he expands his range as a three point threat. Bulking up is key to Zimmerman’s development. It will help him become a stronger player. It will also allow Zimmerman to finish at the rim, limit turnovers, grab rebounds, and contest shots better.

NBA Player Comparison 

A lot of names have been thrown out there, comparing Stephen Zimmerman to players as good as Al Horford, and as forgettable as Meyers Leonard. The safest comparison seems to be retired NBA center and power forward, Raef Lafrentz, in his prime. When with the Denver Nuggets, Lafrentz was a 13 point, 8 rebound a game player, showcasing a reliable jump shot from mid range to the three point line, as well as a great shot blocking ability. Sound familiar? Zimmerman has all those tools, but can be even better than that, especially if he stays healthy all his career.

Zimmerman has been drawing interest from the Detroit Pistons, and could be drafted as early as 18th by them. Being drafted that high would be because of the potential that he has shown. However, Zimmerman could fall to the second round because of the somewhat disappointing freshman season he had. Wherever he goes, the team will get a skilled big man that can stretch the court with his jump shot. He can also defend the rim with his shot blocking skills.

Now, be sure to check out all the rest of the NBA prospects likely to get drafted this year.

Main Photo via USATSI