- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Cody Zeller isn’t a small man, standing 7-foot tall and weighing 240 pounds.

But the Charlotte Bobcats want to see the rookie power forward get stronger.

Coach Steve Clifford said Zeller needs more “functional strength” in his hips, core and back if he’s going to have a bigger impact at the NBA level.

The Bobcats selected Zeller with the No. 4 pick in the 2013 draft hoping he’d become an impact player right away and compete for a starting spot with Josh McRoberts.

That hasn’t happened yet.

Instead, Zeller has settled into a backup role for Charlotte, averaging five points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game. At times, like Wednesday night against the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, he’s been pushed around in the low post on defense.

Clifford said the Bobcats haven’t lost confidence in the former Indiana star, but stressed Zeller needs “a good summer” to become stronger.

“Guys come in and they can lift, but to play well at this level… Hey, when Blake Griffin hits something, normally he goes straight (to where he wants to be) and the other guy goes that way,” Clifford said.

Zeller said building strength is something he plans to work on in the offseason, but in the meantime will do the best with the tools he possesses.

“I’ve always been undersized,” Zeller said. “Even when you’re not the strongest guy you need to play strong. It’s outworking your guy, using advantages you do have. Obviously I can put on some weight, but I’m never going to be 280 (pounds), one of those guys.”

Clifford said that while Zeller has “exceptional ability” and lauds his basketball IQ and work ethic, he said some of that hasn’t shown through on the court because of his lack of strength.

Until Zeller gets stronger, Clifford said he isn’t going to push him to do more than he’s capable of handling.

So while other top ten rookie draft picks like Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Trey Burke are averaging more than 23 minutes per game, Clifford said Zeller might have to be content with making the most of his 16 minutes per game.

Clifford said he doesn’t believe in playing Zeller just for the sake of gaining experience.

“With so many guys their confidence is just shot because people think that by throwing them out there they get better,” Clifford said. “I don’t agree with that. I want a role that, one, he earns and, two, that he can play well in.”

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