Why the San Antonio Spurs Decided to Sign Tyler Zeller

The San Antonio Spurs and Tyler Zeller have agreed to a contract that will result in the 7-foot center finishing off the 2019-20 season with the Silver and Black. The 30-year-old hasn’t played in the NBA this season after being waived by the Denver Nuggets during the preseason.

With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after having surgery on his shoulder, the Spurs signed Zeller in order to improve their depth at center. Aldridge, 35, has spent the vast majority of this season at center. Jakob Poeltl, who is returning from a knee injury, is the only other center on the roster with notable NBA experience.

The signing of Zeller is much like last year’s signing of Donatas Motiejunas. San Antonio signed the Lithuanian 7-foot center near the end of the regular season in order to bolster their big man depth.

What About Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu?

After Aldridge was lost for the season, it was clear that the Spurs would be short-handed at center. To fill the hole, one possibility was for San Antonio to lean on young bigs Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu. Both Eubanks and Metu have shown flashes this season but apparently the Spurs aren’t quite ready to completely rely on either player.

Luka Samanic, the 19th overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, was another option to step into a bigger role. With the addition of Zeller, it’s now doubtful that he’ll get any meaningful minutes the rest of the way.

What Tyler Zeller Brings to the Table

Zeller, at this point in his career, is a typical third string center. He’s big, he plays hard and he’s willing to do the dirty work. Due to the NBA getting smaller and faster, most teams no longer carry a third string center — which resulted in Zeller being pushed out of the league at a relatively young age.

Although he can be a serviceable backup to Poeltl, it’s unlikely that the Spurs view him as anything more than a stopgap. In fact, it’d be surprising if he’s even invited to training camp for the 2020-21 season, as San Antonio would likely want a younger player with a more modern skillset and a higher upside.

Tyler is the brother of Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller. A third Zeller brother, Luke Zeller, played in the NBA. Luke played a preseason game for the Spurs back in 2011 and also played for San Antonio in summer league and for Austin in what is now the G League.

Tyler Zeller and San Antonio’s Playoff Chances

The signing of Zeller indicates that the Spurs will give it their best shot to qualify for the playoffs. If San Antonio didn’t care about the postseason, they would have just leaned on Eubanks or Metu. But instead of allowing their young bigs to develop, the Spurs will apparently turn to Zeller and his veteran experience when Poeltl sits.

Does Zeller move the needle for San Antonio? No, not really. After the NBA resumes action in Orlando at the end of July, the Spurs will likely need to win six of their eight remaining regular season games in order to have a chance at the playoffs. Considering that the Silver and Black is 27-36 on the season and will be without arguably their best player in Aldridge, their chances of advancing to the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season remain slim.