If you are one of the people that craves basketball at any time of year, you probably tuned in to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA summer league in Vegas. If you were watching, your eyes were likely drawn to a new face in the dynamic Billy Preston.
Preston was signed by the Cavaliers to a two-way contract after going undrafted in the 2018 NBA draft. The former McDonald’s All-American decided not to go to the draft combine and instead held private workouts with select teams.
There’s no denying that Preston is a player with impressive physical tools. The 6’10” forward already has an NBA body with his 7’1” wingspan and 240 pound frame. He was the eighth highest ranked power forward in his draft class when he arrived at Kansas.
But his time at Kansas didn’t last long, as Preston was involved in a single-vehicle accident prior to the season-opener. The accident triggered inquiries on the ownership of the vehicle he was driving, putting his eligibility into question.
With his eligibility up in the air, Preston decided to sign with a professional basketball team in Bosnia, where he played just three games.
Preston opened up to Joe Gabriele of Cavs.com on that decision, as well as what he expects from his rookie season with the Cavs:
“Yeah, I wish I had played college ball; If I could’ve played college basketball, I think my whole story would’ve been different,” admitted Preston. “But it’s all God’s plan; I’ll leave everything to God’s plan and let him handle it how he handles it. Good and bad, I just learn from everything, but I’m here today and that’s all that matters.”
“Whatever (the coaching staff) has planned for me or whatever they think is best — if they want me to go down to Canton and play a couple of games or however many games it is, to develop and get better as a professional, then that’s what I’ll do,” said the 6-10 forward. “But if they feel I can help the Cavs, then that’s something I’ll do too. It’s all in the coaches’ hands and I’m good with either.”
When asked what he needs to work on at this point:
“Everything. Of course, defense, but also, trying to get to the basket more, not settling for jump shots. But mainly on the defensive end and rebounding.”
This is probably the right perspective to have, as the Cavs currently don’t have a spot in the rotation for Preston.
Preston has tremendous talent, but as we saw in summer league, he is still a fairly raw athlete. The unfortunate part of him not getting to play college last season isn’t necessarily missed development that only college could give him. It’s the rust that comes from not getting five-on-five play.
As it currently stands, the Cavs have a loaded big man rotation. Kevin Love, Channing Frye and even Sam Dekker project to get minutes at power forward, while Larry Nance Jr, Tristan Thompson and Ante Zizic all likely will need minutes as well.
A player with Preston’s length, athleticism, and skill-set undoubtedly has a place in the league. Especially as a small-ball big, he can be particularly dynamic in the open court.
But unless the team blows things up and purely prioritizes the development of young players, it’s hard to see him getting serious burn this season. Signing Preston represents a gamble with little to no downside. He is clearly motivated and understands that he needs to work to get to the position many predicted he’d get to.
Finding talent late in drafts, or even undrafted players like Preston and having those moves work out can make a dramatic difference for a franchise. As we saw in Vegas, a young pairing of Preston, Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman can be pretty fun when they are clicking.