Over the past few years, UNLV has become a relative hotbed for top-notch high school recruits. Starting with the hiring of Dave Rice in the 2011, the team helped bring in future NBA players Anthony Bennett (2012), Christian Wood (2013) and Rashad Vaughn (2014).
Coinciding with the excitement of those exciting recruits was the disappointment of UNLV's actual on-court performance, Despite having some of the best young players in the court, the UNLV Rebels were really nothing more than a solid mid-major squad. During Rice's four-year stint, the team made two NCAA Tournament appearances (2012 and 2013), where they were eliminated in the first round in subsequent seasons. In the following two seasons, the squad struggled to even stay .500 in Mountain West competition which ultimately kept them out of post-season play.
Despite that continued disappointment, UNLV fans gained some much-needed optimism in 2015 when the team signed five-star recruit Stephen Zimmerman, a 7-foot prospect from Bishop Gorman High School. Due to his mobility, shooting stroke and solid build (7'0 with a 7'3 wingspan). Zimmerman stood one of the more intriguing front-court prospects in that 2015 class.
The optimism surrounding Zimmerman was definitely warranted, as the 6'10 big had a pretty solid freshman season for UNLV. Per 40 minutes, Zimmerman averaged 15.6 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks on 46% shooting. While that production ultimately wasn't enough to push UNLV out of their pit of mediocrity, Zimmerman was still able to establish himself as a solid 2016 NBA Draft prospect.
A lot of Zimmerman's draft stock rests around his incredible mobility and quickness. On the offensive end, that mobility allowed Zimmerman to be a solid on or off-ball cutter, as he worked pick-and-rolls with fellow NBA Draft prospect Patrick McCaw. Off-ball, Zimmerman stood as a huge threat as his mobility and lanky frame allowed him to cut in the same way as a big tight end works alongside his quarterback. In that roll, he had moments where he looked like the second-coming of Rob Gronkowski with the way he was able to make great plays around the rim. An example of that is in the play below, as he makes the hard cut to the paint and makes the strong finish at the rim.
However those great moments coincided with instances where he just wasn't able to produce from around the rim when there was pressure around him. Despite standing at 7'0 with a solid 230 frame, Zimmerman really struggled around the rim when he was under pressure. In those instances, he would either lace up an ill-advised shot or just turn it over. Those struggles led Zimmerman to averaging 3.4 turnovers per game.
Aside from his work as a cutter, Zimmerman's a weird player in the way that he's skilled in different areas (mid-range shooting and post-ups) but he's also very flawed. Technically having range that stretches out to beyond the college three-point line, Zimmerman displayed an ability to both work as a spot-up shooter or through pick-and-pops, where he averaged 1.15 PPP (Points Per Possession). However, there's some flaws in his jumper as it appears that he starts the shot with the ball near his ear and shooting it kinda like a shotput. While the ball has a nice arc and good rotation, that weird release led to him either draining it or just having it miss horribly (example below).
Especially on the right block, Zimmerman shows potential s a post-up option. He has fantastic touch and has shown an ability to hit turnaround jumpers. However, those questions regarding his toughness are easily apparent in post-ups as even college players were able to beat him up inside the low-post. Zimmerman has a high center of gravity and poor lower body strength, which allows stronger bigs to prevent him from getting good low-post positioning.
Those concerns around his strength and sheer physicality are very prevalent on the defensive end. Again, solid college bigs were able to constantly do work against Zimmerman, whether that would be bullying him in the low-post or on the defensive glass. Although he did average 10.1 defensive boards per 40 minutes, UNLV struggled as a below-average defensive rebounding squad. A lot of that could contribute to Zimmerman, as he was very inconsistent with boxing out on the defensive end.
Currently Stephen Zimmerman is positioned as an early to mid-2nd round pick. While that's definitely disappointing extremely low for a former McDonald's All-American coming off a solid freshman season, it makes a lot of sense. Zimmerman's lack of strength, toughness and inconsistent offensive game should have Zimmerman working more minutes in the D-League than in the NBA for his first few years as a professional basketball player.