In this year’s draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers — who started the night without any picks — were relatively aggressive, paying Atlanta cash for the No. 54 selection to grab a high-risk, high-reward prospect in Oakland University offensive savant Kay Felder. In the 2015 draft, the Cavs did the opposite: they started the night with the 24th overall pick, drafted Duke point guard Tyus Jones, flipped him for two second-round picks that turned into European (Anadolu Efes) forward Cedi Osman, who remains in Turkey, and Rakeem Christmas, who was shortly thereafter traded to the Pacers for a 2019 second round draft pick.
The team was already loaded with elite talent, but with part of the bench aging and the other part with contract years looming, plus the inevitability that Tristan Thompson’s impending contract would keep them over the salary cap and without a single draft pick the following year, getting young players with upside would be challenging. With little to lose — besides the impact on Dan Gilbert’s pocket book — they probably could have taken a bigger swing in the first round.
Obviously the decision didn’t hurt them in the broad scheme of things last year, as they pulled a historic comeback against a historically good team, winning the NBA Finals, but with the window of LeBron’s prime closing, putting the thickest lineup around him, Kyrie and Love makes some sense. If this season’s backups look something like Mo Williams, Iman Shumpert, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye the average age of that lineup is currently 32.6, with two players over the age of 35, and the only player in his 20s struggling to play to his potential. My point isn’t that these players aren’t useful pieces of the puzzle anymore — as many of them are smart, three-point specialists who can extend their careers by playing around guys like LeBron and Kyrie — but it wouldn’t be surprising if two or three out of those five took a major step back this year or get injured.
So, that leaves Felder as the player with upside. Averaging 24.4 points and 9.3 assists during his final year of college, Felder established himself as a runner, gunner, shot creator and facilitator who, despite him standing 5’9”, was able to get himself good looks off the dribble with pure athleticism. I understand why he ranks second last in this series (even though I had him slightly higher): he’s going from the Horizon Conference to the NBA, where those skills and innate ability will not translate as easily to. But, while you ideally want to surround LeBron with lanky guards who can shoot, Felder might be the sort of microwave scorer and natural facilitator who could run the offense in a limited capacity, helping to keep LeBron and Kyrie’s usage rates in check for stretches (especially in those meaningless games or in the midst of a solid lead) during the season. If he develops into that — someone who can be the spark plug of the offense while the starters recharge — that would be ideal. No one expects him to be transcendentally dominant out of the gate — or ever, really — but if he’s capable of leading fast breaks and finding open shooters off the bench, he’ll have value right away. As of now, we have no way of knowing — it’s a roll of the dice, and far from a sure thing. But, watching his tape, it’s easy to see flashes of how there’s potential for it to happen.
If Felder does become the primary backup point guard, the easiest way for him to initially contribute would probably be through his passing game. Another facilitator is something the Cavs could certainly use, and with his handles, ability to explode into the lane, court vision and precision passing, it seems like a logical place to start. For example, on this play during summer league Felder comes off a pick to see the defense playing a lazy zone, and zips the ball to an open shooter in the opposite corner.
The next best way for him to contribute early in his rookie season is in transition. Felder is incredibly fast with the ball and has the instincts for the open floor. Sure, there’s going to be moments when flying down the floor turns into spinning out of control, but with his speed, balance, a junk-yard dog attitude and a high-basketball IQ, he can be a terror on fast breaks. On this play, he catches a rebound and takes it coast to coast, readjusting his body at the rim and exercising an excellent amount control.
That control around the rim translates to this play, a half-court possession, as well. Throughout summer league, the Cavs ran a lot of high pick n rolls for Felder, which plays to his advantage of quickness and being able to work in space, and here he gets his shoulders around the big who switched onto him, finishing with a high floater over the help defender.
Maybe my favorite part of his offensive game, but inevitably the one which will be the hardest for him to incorporate come the fall, is his ability to create mid-range shots. He doesn’t shy away from tough shots — and despite that, he shot a respectable 48 percent from inside the three-point line last year. Not only is he a shifty handler, he also shoots off the dribble smoothly, getting off clean shots that are still in rhythm. Here he hits the opposing point guard with a quick crossover and gets the look that he wants, despite another quickly-closing defender.
It remains to be seem how he’ll fair as a defender — in summer league he showed some tenacity and fast hands that lead to some steals and blocks — and he’ll probably be the target of a lot of screens, but, even if Felder does find playing time, he won’t see enough minutes to be an enormous liability. And, versus second units, it’s possible that he’ll be savvy enough to be a borderline plus defender.
There are things to like about Felder. There are things to be worried about. But, if his prowess as a ball-dominant, fearless volume scorer that has a great ability to pass follows him to the NBA, the Cavs might have gotten a steal. And, because of the team’s limited chance at landing young players, that’s incredibly important.
Ninth place votes: 1
11th place votes: 1
12th place votes: 5
13th place votes: 3
14th place votes: 3