Editor's note: This is awesome and insightful AND well written. FP'd.
There were times last year when the man from the Congo was the only reason I turned on Cavs games. When you cheer for a team that looks like it is going absolutely nowhere, you really reach for a reason to get excited, and continue to care. And as many times as Christian Eyenga looked completely lost on the basketball court, as though he walked into Quickens Loans Arena and was handed a basketball uniform simply on talent alone, there were the flashes of someone who might actually turn into a basketball player worth keeping around. There was fantastic on the ball defense against LeBron James. There was a dunk over Pau Gasol. He could shoot a little bit.The expectations this year were not incredibly high for Eyenga. He came into camp having grown two inches, and his body and athleticism would allow him to play either of the wing positions. As Alonzo Gee has said, at least offensively, there isn’t much difference between the wing positions in Coach Scott’s offense. Omri Casspi, was brought in, Anthony Parker and Alonzo Gee were retained, and Daniel Gibson remains a fixture of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most Cavs fans would have been fine seeing 18 minutes a game, good defense, and improved shooting and ball-handling from Eyenga. Thus far, they have seen much, much less than this. The reports are that he didn’t show up to camp focused, glided through practice, and found himself playing uninspired ball for the Canton Charge.
This was incredibly frustrating. We know what Daniel Gibson can bring to the table in playoff situations. I genuinely love the guy, it is hard to see us beating the Pistons in the conference finals a few years ago without him. We know what Anthony Parker brings to the table. Smart defense, even if he isn’t as athletic as he once was (which wasn’t that athletic in the first place), good shooting (just don’t ask him to dribble), and a scapegoat for me to blame anytime anything bad ever happens, regardless of whether it even has to do with Cleveland Cavaliers basketball. We don’t know about what Christian Eyenga could do for us in games that matter.
But here is why we need to find out. The guy is 22 years old, is one the most athletic players in the NBA, barely speaks English, can barely communicate with his head coach, has a decent shooting stroke, is still growing, has shown an ability and a willingness to be a physical basketball player, and, perhaps most importantly, has the potential to be a truly elite perimeter defender. These are, I don’t think anyone would argue, incredibly important to find. There is a reason (though maybe not a good one) that a guy named Metta World Peace both has a huge contract and has won a world championship. Nearly every team in the league that competes for championships has elite wing scorers. Wade, Kobe, LBJ, Carmelo, Durant, Rose (hes a perimeter scorer, and watch what LBJ did to him in the ECF last year), even Danny Granger. Maybe Alonzo Gee will prove capable in checking these types of players, and it has truly been a blast to watch him play this year with his understated athleticism. But there is nothing understated about Eyenga when he shows up to play.
Why can’t Eyenga be Tony Allen? Why can’t Eyenga be Mickael Pietrus? I still hope. It might be 3 years, we might have to keep guaranteeing him a little bit more money than he is worth. But I think in the playoffs if 2013-2014, Eyenga could be following around LeBron in a game that matters. And it might end with Coach Scott being happy he showed patience.