The Cleveland Cavaliers roster is starting to take shape. With last night's news that the Cavs traded for Mike Dunleavy and re-signed Richard Jefferson, there are not too many questions left about who will be on the Cavs 15-man opening night roster outside of J.R. Smith's status. It seems the Cavs will look to defend their championship largely with the same group of players that won the title, which isn't a bad strategy since in 2015-2016 there wasn't a better team in the entire NBA.
However, there will be one primary difference between this year's Cavs team and last years squad, that is the lack of secondary ball handlers. With the rumors that the Cavaliers will not match the Bucks offer to Matthew Dellavedova the Cavs stable of secondary guards is dangerously thin. The Cavs seem to be relying on Mo Williams knee and the development of Jordan McRae to fill the void, both of which are big gambles. The Cavs do have a small wild card though and that wild card is rookie point guard Kay Felder.
Felder is 5' 9" point guard from Oakland University, a school located near the Detroit Pistons home in Auburn Hills Michigan. Commonly known as OU around here, I live in Oakland County, the Golden Grizzlies are not exactly a household name outside of Detroit. They play their ball in the Horizon League, a competitive but not elite mid major conference that is also home to the Cleveland State Vikings. Despite its lack of name recognition the Horizon League has produced some notable NBA players over the last few years with the two biggest names being Butler product Gordon Hayward and CSU's Norris Cole.
Oakland is a newer member of the Horizon League, as they took the spot vacated by Loyola Chicago when Loyala left in 2013 to join the Missouri Valley Conference. Despite being a lesser known name in a smaller conference, the Golden Grizzlies are a strong basketball program that puts out a good on court product while scheduling tough games against big name opponents. Last season alone, OU scheduled games against Washington, Georgia, Virginia and Michigan State.
Felder fared particularly well against Michigan State, tallying 37 points and 9 assists while also scoring some major praise from Tom Izzo and company. However, Felder did not only come to play against the blue bloods - he regularly just dominated his competition. Felder lead the NCAA in assists per game while also averaging more points per game than Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, the top two picks from the 2016 NBA draft. In 2016, Felder lead Oakland to a second place finish in the Horizon league and was the Horizon League player of the year while also being named one of the five finalists for the Bob Cousy award, given out annually to the nation's best collegiate point guard.
Felder was not a one-year wonder either, by the time he entered the NBA draft he was already the Horizon Leagues all-time leader in assists. But it wasn't just in college that Felder put up eye popping numbers.
For those wondering about 5’9" Cavs draft pick Kay Felder, here he is throwing down a windmill. https://t.co/s7LwWVYYJb— Jesse Kramer (@Jesse_Kramer) June 27, 2016
Felder took the NBA combine in Chicago by storm. While Felder's height measurement left something to be desired, he scored very well on other metrics. The former Golden Grizzly registered a 44" max vertical leap which is the second highest mark ever recorded at the combine and also put up the second best three quarters court sprint number in Chicago this year.
All these numbers do is validate what our eyes see when watching Felder play. He is an explosive player who is at home in transition and that can play above the rim. Felder will look to get his teammates involved but he also has no problem taking the ball to the rim or pulling up off the dribble. It was common to see Felder race up court with the ball in his hand, pull up for a three and drain it in his opponents face. Every team that played Felder knew that he was the engine that made the Golden Grizzlies go and it simply did not matter. Short or not, he got to his spots and made his plays.
Kay Felder is good when he gets the ball in transition. Crafty inside, and is able to explode to the basket... https://t.co/mOHAoREz5K— Aaron Johnson (@AJohnsonSports) May 14, 2016
It is popular to compare Felder to other vertically challenged point guards, with Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson being the two most common comparisons. But when I see Felder play, the way he moves in transition, the way he threads passes to his teammates, and yes the shot selection, I am reminded of Kemba Walker during his time at Connecticut. Walker, at 6' 1",is a veritable giant when compared to FElder but their builds are pretty similar, Walker has just six pounds on Felder and they play a similar style. Walker has developed considerably since joining the association and it is unfair to expect Felder to produce like Walker has in recent seasons. But the blue print for the type of player Felder can be is there.
Felder, as noted, is undersized and that is going to be a fairly big problem. Any Cavs fan who saw how Shaun Livingston posted up the Cavs guards in the Finals will understand just how detrimental a size disadvantage can be for a guard, now remember that Felder will have a size disadvantage to almost everyone in the NBA. Felder doesn't have a wingspan that makes up for his 5'9" frame either.
Felder's height will make him hard to hide on defense and he won't be able to guard twos like Dellavedova did. That limits his upside, but Felder's frame is packed with muscle which should help him fight through a the flurry of screens he will undoubtedly encounter at the NBA level. These are the types of fault you live with when drafting a prospect in the second round. The Cavs paid over $2 million for the rights to Felder so it's a virtual lock that he will make the team. He has a bevy of talent and demonstrated, against all levels of competition, that he can make plays. The Cavs need ball handlers and Felder will be given an opportunity to show what he can do at some point.
I would not bet against him, as that might turn out to be short sighted.