It’s time for Las Vegas Summer League once again. The Cleveland Cavaliers will be sending a team to Vegas, hoping to get some development time for their young players as we shift into the next era of Cavs basketball.
In years past, all we could really get excited about was the idea of Jordan McRae growing into a rotation player, or that weird experience of Andrew Wiggins showing off for the Timberwolves. This year, however, might be the most interesting team the Cavs have fielded since Kyrie Irving was headlining LVSL. This team features at least four players who look to figure into the Cavs’ actual roster in 2018-19, and there are a couple of other fun pieces as well. Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman headline the team, but this is a team with several players who should be able to make runs at two-way deals and roster spots come fall.
Summer League always needs to be taken with a grain of salt — teams rarely run offensive sets that mimic their NBA team’s, shooting is inconsistent, and there are a variety of agendas at play as agent and team decisions weigh heavily on how a player plays when he’s on the court. This is how you end up with guys like Bryn Forbes of the Spurs averaging 20 points per game in LVSL despite being a bit role player during the season, while players like Lonzo Ball or Marquese Chriss will play a couple games and then shut down. The majority of guys on these rosters are headed for a year in the G-League or overseas, and this is a major scouting event for those leagues as well.
However, you never know who might surprise you. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Matthew Dellavedova was an untested free agent trying to grind his way onto a roster at the 2013 Summer League. You can find those guys, and the Cavs might have one or two on their roster. That possibility, along with the growth of the Cavs’ established prospects, is why this team could be very fun.
The Cavs tip off Summer League tonight against the Washington Wizards. To prepare you for tonight, here’s what to expect from the important players on the Cavs’ roster.
Collin Sexton is going to shoot. A lot.
Sexton was the eighth pick by the Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Draft, and he’s likely going to get plenty of chances to prove himself as a scorer and playmaker in Summer League. He is probably the Cavs’ best shot creator on this roster, and will be used in that way.
The important thing to remember with Sexton is that while his shooting is a gray area that could make or break his NBA career, it’s not something that is going to reveal itself in this arena. Young guards almost always shoot poorly in Summer League, and Sexton is highly unlikely to be an exception. Instead, focus on his command of the simple concepts that get introduced on offense, and how well he’s able to work within the “paint by numbers” initiation process the Cavs feed him. How are his turnover numbers? How well does he see the offense in the open court? How engaged is he on defense? That’s where we’re actually going to learn things about how well Sexton might perform as a rookie.
Outside of that, expect him to post some poor shooting numbers, but high point totals. With this roster Sexton should hover between 18-22 points per game thanks to the number of shots he’ll get, and the fact that he’s a high free throw rate guy heading into the free throw heaven of Summer League.
Cedi Osman’s pick-and-roll odyssey
Osman will be playing his first Summer League because of his past commitments to the Turkish national team in the summer. He is likely to be a good test case for how team agendas influence Summer League. We know Osman as a floor-spacing, slashing, jack-of-all-trades wing, but the team likely wants to see him play closer to his role with the Turkish national team — where he’s routinely one of their top options and primary ball-handlers. Osman plays far more like a combo guard for Turkey than the three-and-d wing he’s expected to be in the NBA, and it’s probably very likely that the Cavs want to tap in to some of that skill for this coming year.
That’s likely going to be a rocky proposition, because Osman has always been a turnover magnet in on-ball creation duties. However, he’s one of the more experienced players in Summer League, and with the confidence of an NBA season under his belt, he has looked like he’s taken a step forward there in FIBA World Cup qualifiers. How he performs with the ball in his hands is what we should care about, because that ultimately will be what determines his NBA ceiling.
The Big Men
Ante Zizic, Summer League’s Most Improved Player
Ante Zizic is going to look better in 2018 Summer League than he did in 2017 Summer League, because it would be extremely hard for him not to. Zizic was lost on defense with the Celtics last summer, and only shot 55 percent from the field, a very poor number for a guy who has basically been a 67 percent finisher at the rim in all other competitions. There’s a very obvious reason for this — Zizic’s English was a significant work in progress at that point, which makes it hard to understand what your coaches are telling you — but still, Zizic’s first go around in Salt Lake City and Vegas wasn’t good.
This time around, expect Zizic to look a lot better. He’s going to post some gaudy rebounding stats because of the number of missed shots, and we’ll probably get to see how his shot is coming along as well. He might be one of the few players on Cleveland’s team for whom efficiency is expected, and he should deliver on that. Fouling is probably the biggest area to watch with him, because how his discipline has improved will indicate how much the Cavs can expect him to play this coming year.
Okaro White’s fun, and now might actually matter
White was signed late in the season to one of the Cavs’ open roster spots after getting waived by the Heat. He was a complete afterthought until now, but heading into next year, he becomes more important. A 6’8” power forward that can space the floor and bring energy off the bench might have a lot of value next to Kevin Love, and the Cavs will be keeping a much closer eye on his performance than they would otherwise. White was used mostly as a spot-up shooter and dive man in Miami, and was pretty good in that role. I’d expect similar in Vegas, and how much he’s used likely will dictate how the team feels about his long-term odds.
Undrafted Free Agents with a shot at training camp
Billy Preston finally gets to just play basketball
The undrafted forward had perhaps the most tumultuous year of any freshman last year, getting booted from Kansas for potential FBI probe issues and getting hurt in Bosnia after signing with Igokea. We haven’t really seen what he can do in quite some time, but what we do know is that Preston is a strong ball-handler for his size and has great potential as a driving scorer. He doesn’t have the best passing instincts or a functional jumper at this point, and it’s hard to buy in to him as a defender because of his instincts. This year, we get to see if his high school tape that has everyone excited is real in terms of his fluidity. If it is, he’s probably on the roster opening night. If not, he’s probably in Canton.
Dakota Mathias brings entertainment value
Mathias, a shooting guard from Purdue, is the other name among the undrafted Cavs that has people excited. He was perhaps the Big Ten’s best three-point shooter last season, and his game is like a poor man’s J.J. Redick, with him flying off screens, pulling up from Mars, and shooting leaning three-pointers off the catch that go in anyway. He’s probably not an NBA player — his shooting form is all over the place and he can’t get separation from college guards off the dribble, much less at the NBA level — but he might be good for a random 20-point outburst, and he’ll make the Charge more fun to watch.
Bonzie Colson isn’t your typical 6’5” power forward
Summer League is a haven for undersized college fours, guys who played as bigs in college despite being shorter than most NBA shooting guards. They don’t have much value in the NBA, though, save for a select few who successfully fall into the Quincy Acy camp of guys in this vein because of either shooting touch or strength that cancels out the height deficit. Colson might be among that mold. The Notre Dame forward missed most of this past season with a foot fracture, but when healthy he’s a pretty smooth athlete that has promising passing technique. If he’s effective at Summer League, he has an outside shot at training camp.