The Cleveland Cavaliers have few unknowns this season. Unlike last year, where questions were plentiful regarding the fit of Kevin Love, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving together, the depth of the team, David Blatt's ability, and others, this year appears pretty straight forward. There are a few questions, like how Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will fare returning from injury (Probably fine!), whether J.R. Smith can be as good as he was last year (Probably not!), and what to do about Tristan Thompson's contract (Pay the man!), but they all seem relatively inconsequential given that the Cavs have proven they can sleepwalk through half a season and still get the two seed. However, one clear unknown as we head into the season is what the role of Sasha Kaun will be.
Kaun presents one of the most atypical paths to the NBA we've seen. A Russian national, Kaun played high school basketball in Florida before joining the Kansas Jayhawks, where he was a four-year rotation player and part-time starter on their 2008 National Championship team, all while getting a degree in computer science, because why not? The Seattle Supersonics drafted him with their last pick ever (56th in 2008), then sold his rights to the Cavs, who promptly allowed him to sign with CSKA Moscow, where he played for David Blatt and with everyone from Alexey Shved to Andrei Kirilenko to current Cavs front office member Trajan Langdon. Now, at age 30, he's a rookie in the NBA on an NBA title contender.
I have no idea how to process all of the above except to state that this is one hell of an interesting resume.
And that's the problem we face with Kaun. It's a two part question:
1. How can we expect Kaun to play any sort of role when it's hard to really determine how good he is?
2. Does he even have any sort of expected role in the first place?
Here's what we do know about Kaun. He's a great finisher under the basket, using a strong frame to post high conversion rates underneath every year he's played at CSKA Moscow. He also has great shot selection, as his career 70.2 percent shooting across all European competitions indicates he rarely strays from the basket. He is also helped in this regard by never being considered an option on offense - Even in the preseason, he's only taken just 10 shots through four games. So Kaun is almost never an offensive factor, but when he is, he's extremely effective at finishing. Cool, I guess?
And then there's his defensive skill set, which is even harder to determine. On one hand, he's a decent rebounder and has always posted decent block numbers in Russia. On the other, he's rather clunky when moving and he fouled a ton in Russia, which doesn't bode well in the NBA where the speed of the game increases. And did I mention he's 30, and that this probably isn't going to improve? That's a big issue, because Kaun might not be able to keep up with anyone even remotely quick by NBA standards, which could leave him unplayable due to foul trouble.
And then you consider that Kaun plays behind Love, Thompson and Timofey Mozgov and maybe (probably not) Anderson Varejao, on a team that might be most effective playing small, and you have to wonder why Kaun is even here. Do the Cavs expect him to just play garbage minutes, with occasional bit moments against more physically imposing centers or in situations where someone needs a good, hard, six fouls? Wait........Is Kaun just a Russian Kendrick Perkins?
Yes. We'll go with this. Expect Kaun to just be a new Kendrick Perkins, and everything makes sense.