When the Cavaliers introduced Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the media after acquiring them for Kyrie Irving, a third player was with them: Ante Zizic.
The focus, though, was not on Zizic. It was on Thomas and his ability to help LeBron James compete for a title. As it turns out, he could not and Thomas was dealt to the Lakers at the trade deadline.
It was also on Crowder, envisioned as a perfect complement to James in the frontcourt. He too, was a bust and was sent to the Jazz at the deadline.
Zizic, in this moment and for the ensuing season, was out of the spotlight. He, along with the No. 8 pick in the draft, are all the Cavs have left from the Irving trade, the trade that set the tone for Cleveland’s season.
The good news for the Cavs, though, is that Zizic flashed potential, even if it was often out of the spotlight. Pregame and at practice, Zizic worked with assistant coach Vitaly Potapenko on all facets of his game, with Kendrick Perkins joining the workouts during the playoffs. He played 18 games with the Canton Charge, the Cavs’ G-League affiliate, too — averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 57.3 percent from the field. And in his few appearances with the Cavs, he showed potential to be something.
Zizic spent most of his with the Cavs on the bench, but had one stretch in March where he played nine consecutive games and 12 games overall. For that month, Zizic averaged 6.7 points and three rebounds per game while shooting 79.5 percent from the field in 11.3 minutes per game. In doing that, he also showed the characteristics that make him someone to watch.
Where Zizic shines, and where he most improved this season, is in his movement and in his feel for the game. He is not a jump out of the gym, elite athlete, but he is smooth and runs well. This allows him to finish well at the rim and work as a roll man or a cutter:
As a rebounder, he uses his frame well and plays to his strengths. He doesn’t try and out jump anyone — instead he uses his frame to get in position and give himself a chance to make a play.
He also has a potential to be a solid defender too. He might never be a shot blocker like a Larry Nance Jr. or even elite on switches and shot contesting like Tristan Thompson, but he completes and doesn’t try too much. Sometimes, that’s enough:
However, he, is still mastering the footwork necessary to be a big man in this NBA and survive on the perimeter:
This praise is not to say that Zizic is ready to start next season, regardless of what Cleveland’s roster ends up looking like. He’s still only 21 and won’t even turn 22 until the middle of next season. He also looked completely overwhelmed the first few times he was on the floor this season and struggles next season should be expected, regardless of what role he takes on. Thirty-two games played, and a total of 214 NBA minutes, is not enough to view him as a sure thing. And if LeBron does return, who’s to say that the Cavs won’t try to use him as trade asset and roll into next season with Thompson, Nance Jr. and Kevin Love playing center? It’s also possible the Cavs take a big at No. 8 in this year’s draft and prioritize that player over Zizic.
But the Cavs also might have something in Zizic that’s worth investing time in. He is still growing into a real player, but there are flashes of something there to build on, all based on what he did out of the spotlight.