Scouting The Rookies: Kyrie, TT, Knight Impress

So, there was a preseason game tonight. As Conrad already laid out, the game was frankly pretty horrible. Virtually unwatchable. Every other possession seemed to be a Samardo Samuels free throw -- he shot 16 of them, in most likely the first and only time in his career Samardo shoots more than 10 free throws in a game. The Cavs overall shot 56 of them, which makes for some pretty atrocious basketball to watch. The 4 of my friends who were watching alongside me all dropped out about midway through the first half. I persevered, though, and got to witness the first Cavaliers regulation December win since 2010. Amazing, right? The Cavs last won a non-OT game in December way back in 2010. A 106-101 tilt over the Atlanta Hawks on December 30th, 2010. Yes, it was only the preseason. No, the game doesn't mean anything. But it's nice to see the Cavs win every once in a while. After the jump, some scouting-type thoughts on what we can glean from our young rookies (and Brandon Knight).

I'll start at the top, and that means the best player. Kyrie Irving. There are definitely going to be some growing pains, but Kyrie is without question the 2nd best player on this team behind Anderson Varejao right now. Kyrie's full array of moves was on display tonight -- killer back and forth dribble, impossibly quick stop-on-a-dime lateral quickness, his brilliant long range bomb passes, his lockdown free throw shooting (90% free throw shooter in college, believe it or not), and his ridiculous setup passing through the tiniest of defensive seams. Showed it all off, in various forms. Atop that? Endless, endless hustle. My favorite sequence for Kyrie was one where Samardo missed a point blank layup that was about to go out of bounds, but Kyrie leaped past the stanchion and flung the ball into Eyenga's hands to save the possession. It was some Manu Ginobili type hustle, and that's fun to see in a point guard. My best-case-scenario for Kyrie has always been as a talent just under where Chris Paul settled at during his peak. This game did nothing to dissuade me from that.

Perhaps his best attribute was the way he drew fouls. His shot was absolutely busted tonight (which, by the way, won't last -- he was a knockdown shooter in college at >40% from three, and he took at least two NBA-length threes per game at Duke), but he still found the gaps and seams that players like Chris Paul find when their shots are off. And he used some tricky shot fakes (which the defensively defunct Pistons roster continued to bite on) to leverage a ton of free throws, in the end making up for his iffy shooting night. He wasn't afraid to body up his man on defense, and while Knight made him look awfully silly once or twice, it wasn't all bad -- he did a good job contesting Knight's shots and helped force him into a relatively awful shooting night. And his steals were exquisite -- I haven't seen a rookie point guard quite as good at forcing the steal and recovering after missed opportunities as Kyrie was in this game since Paul. That's not an overstatement. He's an extreme pest, but he recovered quick enough that he didn't ever seem to blow his rotation. Overall, very promising.

Problems, though? There were some. Mostly rookie issues, and not ones that seriously concerned me. But problems all the same. His shot looked bad -- it had a slight hitch in it, and seemed to consistently miss the rim by a few inches left and right depending on the side of the court he shot it from. Not altogether concerning, as he was a lockdown free throw shooter (indicating he'll shoot quite a bit better over the course of a season), but certainly not fun. And then the turnovers. A lot of these weren't really his fault -- there were teammates completely out of position, strange calls, etc. But there were at least 3 passes that were really nowhere near the target. Most point guards have that their rookie year, but I was sort of hoping Kyrie wouldn't be quite that bad. While many people would point to his lack of assists as a possible issue, I'd say that's a red herring -- I counted 4 or 5 passes that SHOULD have ended with a basket, and only didn't because Samardo Samuels and Micheal Thompson are absolutely awful NBA players. Playing with the starters and Varejao, I could see him having 6-8 assists in this game. That's solid. So, he ended with a somewhat empty but seriously promising 21-6-3 in just 27, with 6-8 assists if he'd played with anyone other than Samuels. A solid outcome for him. And would seem to support the supposition that he's the odds on favorite for RoY.

Speaking of Brandon Knight, I know this is about Kyrie and TT, but I wanted to emphasize that Knight really impressed me. His statline was rather mundane (9-2-4 on 33.3% shooting in 22 minutes), but what he showed on the court was rather impressive. In a weird way, he reminds me of Brandon Jennings from his rookie year -- his potential doesn't seem to be in the Tyreke/Paul/Kyrie/Wall/Rose stratosphere, but just below them. That of the serviceable chucking guard who makes about 4 brilliant passes a game, takes a lot of bad shots, and is a lot better than his stats would indicate. And, hopefully, cuts down on the turnovers -- like Kyrie, they weren't all his fault, but he needs to slow down sometimes and let the game come to him. It's not a race, it's a slog -- especially in a season like this one.

Finally, a few words on Tristan Thompson. I came into the game with absolutely no idea how he'd play, and somewhat excited to see how he acquitted himself. He left me feeling just as confused (if not moreso) than I was before. He was in the right places on defense for much of the first half, but he couldn't buy a rebound to save his life and essentially just kept fouling. His shot was busted, he couldn't finish, and his rebounding was awful. Enter the second half: Thompson proceeded to absolutely beast it, throwing down 2 rim shattering dunks in the fourth, some of the most effective shot blocks I've seen in a while, and some stifling defense on Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell (who, to his credit, still was able to beast all over Thompson by the end of the quarter when Thompson began to tire out). His rebounding was great, his movement off the ball was great, and he simply looked really, really good. There's no getting around that. But that doesn't really erase just how singularly awful he was in the first, or how incredibly bad he is at shooting the ball in any form (including free throws). Last year, DeAndre Jordan had 222 out of 234 of his baskets either assisted or coming on offensive rebound putbacks. Ideally? That's the kind of shot chart Tristan needs to be looking at, until he can figure out how to get over his absurd length and properly shoot the basketball. Beyond that, though, he doesn't really look like a bust -- he's extremely raw, but talented and already quite a bit better than a bust like Thabeet ever was. I didn't like this pick when it was called, and I still don't -- I think there are a wealth of players we could've taken who will be better when their careers are all said and done. But he looks like he has a chance to be something in this league.

What that is, exactly, I don't know -- but something. And that counts, you know?

For more of Aaron's writing, check his twitter (@docrostov) and baroque-style blog (the Gothic Ginobili).

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