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Dylan Windler is running out of time

Dylan Windler does the little things well. The Cavs need him to start doing big things.

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Dylan Windler (born September 22, 1996) is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

That’s the first sentence of his Wikipedia page. I put it there because, if you haven’t been looking reallllllly hard, you may not have seen this for yourself, or maybe you just forgot. Hell, the ‘professional career’ section of his Wikipedia page is three sentences long and contains nothing past January of 2020 — for all we know, Wikipedia has forgotten too!

Evidence of Windler’s NBA-player status is equally scant elsewhere on the internet. Most players have highlight reels featuring, y’know, highlights? Windler’s reels look more like Where’s Waldo?-style compilations of plays, seemingly made by people eager to spot him doing literally anything on a basketball court.

To be fair, it’d be hard for anyone to get and stay on their feet under a deluge of injuries like Windler has dealt with. Now, not only Windler is the healthiest he’s ever been, he’s also surrounded by the best collection of passers he’s ever had. Cedi Osman, whose skill set somewhat mirrors Windler’s, is playing the best basketball of his life thanks in large part to the arrival of Ricky Rubio. Windler, meanwhile, can’t find the court and has logged six minutes over his last two games. (He was originally listed as questionable against the Utah Jazz on Sunday, but didn’t play. We’ll chalk that up to an abundance of caution.)

At first glance, the lack of minutes seems curious. Windler is a 40% three-point shooter on a team that, while improved, sits in the bottom half of the league in three-point volume and percentage. Even the best teams can usually find minutes for shooters like that. On top of that, Windler is only two years removed from being a first-round pick. He may not exactly be a developmental prospect at 25-years-old, but you’d think the Cavs would make a more concerted effort to get him on the floor.

Then you realize that he’s a three-point specialist who’s attempted (attempted!) 24 threes in 17 games. And that, over the last three weeks of November, he averaged one attempt per week —f or numbers people, that simplifies to 1.0 attempt per 1.0 week. And that he took one shot in 18 minutes against the Golden State Warriors, and one shot in 12 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks, and — you get the point. Windler is a trigger-shy marksman.

If this is a confusing development to you, join the club! Right before he started protesting shooting, Windler was having the best stretch of his career. He went 9-for-17 over five games to start November and was up to 45 percent from deep on the season. He played a significant part in wins over the New York Knicks and the Portland Trail Blazers, posting a combined 22 points on 6-for-7 shooting from three.

What’s even more puzzling is that Windler has shown flashes of being more than just a one-dimensional shooter. In the Cavs’ win over the Detroit Pistons, Windler pulled down 7 rebounds and dished 4 assists to go along with 8 points on 3-for-7 from the field and 2-for-5 from deep. That stat line doesn’t overly feel fluky, either; watch enough of Windler’s non-highlight reels, and you’ll catch faint glimpses of a guy who rebounds well, attacks closeouts, makes smart passes and occasionally moves without the ball.

Here’s the thing, though: Every team preaches the value of having players who do ‘the little things.’ But the Cavaliers need players who do the big things, and shooting is a pretty big thing that, best we can tell, Windler can do. Highlights aren’t everything, but if it takes poring through multiple games’ worth of tape to uncover a flash, well, maybe finding somewhere else to dig is the right call.

This brings us to an important caveat: Sometimes, players don’t play much or shoot often because they just aren’t very good. That could well be the case with Windler. Even if it is, though, it would be much to puzzle out an answer for ourselves if there wasn’t a giant question mark obscuring his most important trait. How do you evaluate a player like this?

It would be one thing if Windler couldn’t shoot. Right now, it feels like he just...won’t. Maybe it’s naïve, but that feels like it matters. But the longer the Cavs stay in the playoff hunt, the less important that distinction becomes—and the more Windler needs to do something big to make the little things matter.

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