The regular season is finally here. Starting tomorrow night, the Cavaliers officially begin their championship defense. The tease that was the NBA preseason has come and gone and no longer will Kay Felder and Jordan McRae lead the team in minutes.
The Cavaliers don’t have many roster questions and there isn’t a lot of ambiguity about how their players fit together or how they want to play. The big questions this preseason were: ‘‘Who is going to be the backup point guard?’ and ‘How will McRae and Felder fit into the roster equation once the regular season roles around?’.
The preseason in the NBA can be hard to judge. Teams have different motivations in different games so results and stats can be difficult to translate into value. There is not a designed dress rehearsal game like there is in the NFL so it can be hard to draw meaningful conclusion from exhibitions. With that said there were more than a few recurring themes that we saw from the games throughout the Cavaliers preseason.
To me the biggest take away from the preseason is that Felder can play basketball at an NBA level. The former Oakland University point guard lit up summer league this year but it was nice to see his game translate against NBA players, even if it was the preseason. Felder was second on the team in minutes per game and he made the most of his time on the court. Kay showed that he can create for himself and others, finishing second in assists per game just behind Kyrie Irving. Felder did struggle a bit shooting, notching a 40 percent mark from the field, but he shot well from behind the arc and at the free throw line. Perhaps most important for the Cavaliers 2016 second round pick is that his athleticism seemed to translate and help make up for his short stature. Multiple times he was able to use his good vertical to make plays at the rim and get a bucket:
He may not see a ton of minutes this year, the Cavaliers style of play is pretty dramatically different from Oakland University’s and the leap from the Horizon League to the NBA is huge. Felder showed he has the skills to play in the NBA, but his rookie year might be more about development than playing time for one of the Cavaliers few cheap ways to improve over the next few seasons.
But as good as Felder looked, it was McRae who lead the team in points per game during the preseason. McRae did not shoot particularly well - just 38 percent from the field - but he was able to fill up the box score quickly and looked good slashing to the basket:
I'm telling you guys Jordan McRae is an animal he scores with ease https://t.co/da40tOCPwa— JACK STEVENS (@jack_stevens13) October 7, 2016
With Mo Williams retirement the Cavaliers were willing to give McRae a long look as a potential answer to the backup point guard question but McRae’s game so far seems more suited to a bench scorer than backup point guard. The team seemed to agree and by the time the preseason came to a close they were experimenting with Iman Shumpert as Irving’s backup. That does not mean that McRae won’t have a home on the Cavs. Wing depth is an issue for this team and McRae has shown, both at the tail end of last season and this preseason, that he has the skills to make an impact in the NBA. Those skills just don’t seem to be as a backup point guard and that is ok.
After the preseason the Cavaliers should have a better answer as to what to expect from McRae and Felder. Both players have NBA skills but might not fit the Cavaliers immediate roster needs. Felder might be best served to spend some time in Canton as well as a member of the Cavaliers roster so that he can develop and transition to the NBA. McRae can provide needed wing depth and bench scoring, which should help the Cavaliers keep their older wings fresh for the playoffs.
McRae, though, just doesn't look like he has the skill set to be the teams backup point guard and coach Tyronn Lue said that the experiment of playing McRae at the one is over. It seems likely that the team is going to need a backup point guard, and the recent rumors of the team looking to trade for one indicate that they see the situation the same way. Only time will tell what Felder and McRae’s roles will really be this season, but thankfully, that time is just around the corner.