Four days before the Cavaliers kick off their season on national television against the Brooklyn Nets, Cavaliers rookie wing Sergey Karasev will turn 20 years old. Karasev is the youngest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most of us are pretty familiar with Karasev's story by now. Son of a Russian legend and the coach of the Russian national team, as well as his Russian professional team, Triumph, Karasev is a sweet shooting hybrid wing that can create for himself or teammates. He led the top national league in Russia in scoring as a 19 year old, no small feat. While he had trouble getting on the court for Russia in the Olympics last summer, the fact that an 18 year old even made an Olympic team that won Bronze is impressive in and of itself.
But what type of player will Karasev be in the NBA? And where does he fit in with Cleveland? The short answer is that we don't know. The Cleveland organization seems to think of Karasev as a shooting guard at this point, which makes a bit of sense; while Karasev has ideal height for either wing position at 6'7, he has yet to be on an NBA weight training program, or play anything close to 82 games in a season. Having him bang with bigger small forwards at this point in his career may be tough to ask. At the same time, there are real questions about whether Karasev has the quickness to stay with shooting guards.
Shooting guard is something approaching a strength for the Cavaliers. Dion Waiters will be entering his second year and figures to get a bit better, even if it is only on the defensive end. C.J. Miles is coming off a year in which he gave the Cavs their only efficient scoring off the bench and is the nominal backup. New signee Jarrett Jack will get serious minutes backing up both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in a likely 6th man role that sees him receive 26-28 minutes a game. Is there room for Karasev in the rotation? I am not positive there is.
New coach Mike Brown will be focused on bringing a functional defense to Cleveland. I would be the last one to tell you that Jarrett Jack or C.J. Miles are competent defenders, but both are veterans and have a solid understanding of NBA offenses and what opposing offenses are trying to accomplish. Miles has played for the tough Jerry Sloan, and Jack is coming from Golden State where their new head coach Mark Jackson had the same goals as Brown will have in Cleveland, trying to improve a team with horrendous defense. For Karasev, everything will be new: The language (which he actually seems to be quite good at), the country, the coaching staff, and his role on the team. I find it hard to see him jumping established veterans for minutes at such a young age, even if you look to get him minutes at small forward behind Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark.
Of course, injuries can and will happen, which would provide an opening. And there is a chance that Karasev is actually good enough that he forces the issue and Mike Brown has to play him. The Cavaliers need shooting, and Karasev can shoot. Against pretty good competition this summer at the World University games, Karasev was the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, and led his team to the championship. Of course, there is no definitive way to predict how his play there, or in Russian league play or EuroCup (where he similarly excelled) will translate; there are some clues, though. Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider will release his SCHOENE projections that he pioneered at Basketball Prospectus in October, but in the meantime we can look at his ESPN draft rankings based on Wins Above Replacement Player. Karasev rated highly, as the 10th best prospect in the draft, and Pelton cited Karasev's play at EuroCup to help assert that Karasev will be able to contribute immediately.
Sergey Karasev could get minutes for quite a few NBA teams. The Cavaliers might not be one of them. There have been minor reports (that I can't substantiate) that Karasev has struggled at times with maturity. The guy is 19, so even if this is true it isn't necessarily a big deal. There could be cause for a little concern if Karasev isn't playing and grows frustrated with his role, or is sent to the Developmental League and doesn't appreciate that. Worrying about this in August, though, seems to be pretty silly. The Cavaliers have some depth on the wing, finally, and this is a good thing. Even if Karasev's time isn't this season, there is reason to believe he will be a big help to the Wine & Gold down the road. And when your core of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett are all 22 years old or younger, well, that is just fine.