Those who worry that the Cavs reached on Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick can rest assured that Cleveland may have landed an absolute steal with Sergey Karasev at No. 19.
Karasev, a shooting guard/small forward from Russia, had been creeping up mock drafts leading up to draft night and looked like he would be gone by the time the Cavaliers picked again in the first round.
So, why was he such a great pick for the Cavs?
First, Karasev fills a lot of the Cavaliers' needs. At 6'7" he can play small forward, their weakest position for the past three years. He's also a talented shooter and passer who can make the highlight play.
For Karasev, coming to America will be a major adjustment. Here's what he'll have to do to maximize his talents with the Cavaliers and prove to everybody that maybe he shouldn't have fallen to No. 19.
Karasev's game is based on his ability to connect from deep.
In 11 Eurocup games this season, Karasev averaged 16.1 points per game while shooting 49.0 percent from deep. This number was especially impressive considering he took nearly five three-pointers per game.
His shot is somewhat unique but very effective.
Notice how quickly the ball leaves his hands. It's crucial for a shooter to have a quick release, and Karasev may have one of the quickest in the NBA already. He also has a high release point, with the ball a good 12" above his head upon release. Considering Karasev stands at 6'7", shooting guards are going to have a hard time contesting his shots.
Two players come to mind when studying Karasev and his shooting style.
The first is current Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen. He has the ability to get a shot up in hardly any time at all. His quick release serves as a model for Karasev and all young shooters.
The second is former Sacramento Kings star shooter Peja Stojakovic. At 6'10", Stojakovic made a living shooting over smaller players throughout his 13-year NBA career. He ended up shooting 40.1 percent from deep and amassed 1,760 three-pointers in 804 career games.
Last season, the Cavaliers ranked 23rd in the NBA in three-point shooting at just 34.6 percent. Kyrie Irving was the only player opponents truly had to pay attention to outside the arc, allowing defenses to clog the middle of the court more often.
Enter Karasev, who can keep defenses honest and help spread the floor for the Cavs on offense.
If Karasev can combine his high release point with his quick trigger, he should have continued offensive success in the NBA.
The Cavaliers ranked 26th in the NBA in assists last season with 20.7 per game.
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are great ball-handlers, but Cleveland lacked a third person through whom it could move the ball.
Karasev needs to be more than just a spot-up shooter on the Cavs. They need him to set other teammates up as well, something he's done an average job of in the past. During those same 11 Eurocup games, Karasev averaged 2.4 assists in just under 32 minutes a game.
Karasev will never be the primary ball-handler when he's on the court, but he will have to demonstrate a strong passing ability given the time he'll be seeing at shooting guard.
The Cavaliers' defense has been pretty horrid for three years now, but it should already be improved with the hiring of Mike Brown.
Karasev will have to add some muscle to his slender 6'7" frame to be able to guard some of the league's bigger small forwards. His 6'9" wingspan is above-average for his position, which will help him out on the perimeter against smaller, quicker players.
Karasev was a strong defender while playing in Russia. Chad Ford of ESPN writes that Karasev held his opposing shooters to a 28.6 field-goal percentage on spot-ups, which ranked in the 95th percentile in all European competition (min. 100 plays).
To play for a Mike Brown team, you have to be able to defend.
If Karasev can handle both quick guards and stronger forwards, he'll earn a lot of minutes under Brown.
Heading into the season, Karasev will likely be a primary backup at both shooting guard and small forward. Still just 19, Cleveland shouldn't rush him into big minutes right away but instead let him adjust to the NBA slowly.
A rookie season where he comes off the bench to defend and knock down three-pointers while developing his passing and overall offensive game would be considered a success.
That being said, Karasev should have the goal of starting at small forward right away. The harder he works now, the quicker he'll be able to make strong contributions to a Cavaliers team with a goal of making the playoffs this season.
While I don't expect Karasev to win a starting job right out of training camp, he could very well end up there before the year is over.
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