A combination of nagging injury problems and a disappointing UNLV team prevented Stephen Zimmerman from getting the national exposure you would expect from a top-10 recruit projected as a first round pick. In his time on the floor, Zimmerman showed off his impressive athleticism and skill set, but also struggled with consistency and mentality issues on a team without much coaching direction.
Standing at over 6-10 with an over 7-3 wingspan Zimmerman has prototypical center size and length. He’s got fairly wide shoulders that suggest he could fill out his frame in time, but his current weight of 235 pounds and a relatively undefined body hurts his ability to bang inside.
Part of the appeal in Zimmerman’s game is his potential ability as a shooting threat. He was a high volume mid-range shooter in his one year at UNLV and even attempted 17 threes in his 26 appearances. He shot a solid 38 percent from the mid-range, but only converted on five of his 17 threes and shot a relatively poor 62.4 percent from the free throw line. His release is a little slow and to the side of his head, but he’s got a fluid motion and shoots the ball with good touch — doing a good job mixing bank shots into his catch-and-shoot arsenal.
When the ball goes in Zimmerman’s shot looks high-arcing and beautiful, but he has some bad misses to the left or right when the ball comes off his hand weirdly. His slow release might prevent him from ever being a threat from three-point range, but I expect his natural touch to allow him to at least be a consistent threat from the mid-range. The possibility that he does develop a real three-point shot also gives him some added upside as a true stretch 5.
The other area where Zimmerman can affect the game as an off-ball player is with his ability to catch and finish around the rim. He’s not an elite leaper that can rise up from a standstill at any time, but when rolling down the floor in pick-and-roll situations he’s a threat to finish above the rim on lobs. The ability to serve as a dual threat popping for jumpers or diving for lobs gives a team valuable flexibility in their pick-and-roll attack.
Zimmerman’s inability to gather off-two feet without a head of steam does hurt him quite a bit. After offensive rebounds or when ducking in on smaller defenders he struggles to just elevate over the top and finish, and working on his ability to rise up without gathering could really help his NBA future.
While Zimmerman’s NBA role will most likely not be as a central creator, his raw creating tools can help him provide versatility when catching the ball in space on offense. Zimmerman moves fluidly for his size which allows him to attack in face-up situations, and while his handle isn’t overly advanced it also doesn’t slow him down like it does many guys at his position. In traffic, he struggles to adjust to help defenders, and had problems with turnovers this year driving into crowds, but his natural skill set as a face-up man is pretty advanced.
In the post, Zimmerman has a wide enough body to make a good target but lacks the strength in his lower body to really hold position. When he gets the ball he has an impressive array of jump hooks, running hooks, and post turnarounds for someone who only scored 16 points per 40 minutes. His touch and moves are good on their own, but when forced to adjust to contact from defenders he struggles to power through or over effectively.
Zimmerman’s lowly 48.8 percent effective field goal percentage is a product of a few factors. His aforementioned inability to handle contact around the rim and propensity to attempt low-efficiency mid-rangers, and also his difficulty finishing with his right hand. According to DraftExpress, Zimmerman cannot fully extend his right elbow, and it shows on the court. He has fine touch with his right, but frequently opts to use his left to try and get his shot off around defenders due to his lack of comfort extending his right on finishes. It is unclear how much his off-hand can be improved, but it is certainly a limiting factor in his interior scoring.
The other area of creation in Zimmerman’s game is passing the ball. Looking at the numbers, his 6.4 percent assist percentage and 17.1 percent turnover rate aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, but his true ability is much more promising. His turnover problems stem from his difficulty in adjusting to help defenders, which is absolutely an important concern. However, UNLV never played with very good spacing, and the raw flashes Zimmerman showed as a passer were very impressive at times. He needs to adjust to the speed of the game more, but he seems to possess the requisite vision to function in modern day offenses.
UNLV’s coaching is again worth mentioning here – their execution of defensive schemes and IQ were pretty terrible across the roster. Therefore, Zimmerman’s struggles with scheme and concepts are concerning, but not as much of an issue as they might be for someone like Skal Labissiere. He might start out in the NBA farther behind than your average rookie, but his lack of high-quality coaching thus far suggests he has more room to improve.
In terms of pure defensive tools Zimmerman has a pretty impressive package. His lack of elite bounce in traffic prevents him from being a high-end shot blocker, but he has enough length, athleticism, and timing to be a very good rim protector. He did have moments of success this year both as a weakside shot blocker and in one-on-one situations. Zimmerman does have a tendency to only pursue blocks with his left hand, but his biggest issue as a shot blocker is that he too often falls for fakes around the rim instead of staying down and using his length. Again, coaching and seasoning could fix these issues, though there is no guarantee.
Guarding in pick-and-roll situations and on the perimeter Zimmerman is pretty darn mobile for a man of his size. He doesn’t have spectacular switch everything type of quickness, but he moves his feet well when containing the ball and can effectively play drop or hedge schemes. He needs to work on staying down in his stance and not just trying to create shot blocking opportunities, but he’s not the type of slow-footed big who will get exposed on that end of the court.
Zimmerman’s biggest current area of concern is his one-on-one defense in post-up and face-up situations. His raw length and mobility are helpful, but his poor core strength allows him to get bullied to the basket by like sized or bigger players. Zimmerman’s frame should allow him to add strength and this won’t be a huge long-term issue, but there is some merit to the idea that he might be a naturally “soft” player. It’s hard to know at this stage whether it is more of a physical or mental issue, but with interviews and workouts, NBA teams might be able to get a better grasp on this important question.
On the glass, Zimmerman’s dichotomy between his raw tools and his lack of physicality shows up once again. He’s not a twig, and due to his size he was a pretty effective rebounder on both ends at the college level. He did have a tendency to get pushed around and has the type of length, leaping, and quickness where he could be a big-time threat on the glass. I would guess he ends up as an unexceptional, solid two-way rebounder at the NBA level.
Like his teammate Patrick McCaw, I am higher on Zimmerman than consensus opinion. UNLV’s toxic coaching situation and team full of shoot-first players prevented guys like Zimmerman and McCaw from showcasing their skills when in fact both have NBA-ready tools and positive mental indicators. Zimmerman is 35th in DraftExpress’s latest mock and 41st on Chad Ford’s top-100, but I fully believe he is deserving of a first-round pick, and possible late lottery consideration.
Just looking at his tools it is easy to see the appeal with Zimmerman. He has size, athleticism, and skill for his position, and can serve as a rim protector who guards well on the perimeter in addition to being a dual threat pick-and-pop/rim runner on the offensive end. Not many bigs can boast that kind of versatility, and Zimmerman’s fledgling post-up and face-up game even gives him some additional upside beyond that.
He obviously hasn’t put it all quite together yet, and issues with his strength, off-hand, and feel for dealing with defenders in traffic are all legit. However, I’m not sure how a big like Skal Labissiere can be billed as a lottery pick on his upside when Zimmerman has similar upside as a two-way big with a much more well-rounded base of production to start with. Two-way bigs don’t grow on trees, and Zimmerman isn’t nearly as raw as some of the “higher upside” bigs projected to go ahead of him. It’s time to start ignoring his game and realize that his skills and athleticism might give him more upside than any other center in this class.