Realistic Expectations for Cleveland Cavs Rookie Kay Felder in 2016-17

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJuly 21, 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 17:  Kay Felder #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against the Chicago Bulls during the 2016 NBA Las Vegas Summer League game on July 17, 2016 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
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He might be the smallest member of the 2016 NBA draft, but Kay Felder could wind up carving a big role with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 5'9" point guard out of Oakland University joins the NBA champions as a backup to both All-Star Kyrie Irving and veteran Mo Williams, with minutes now available via the departure of Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Cleveland paid the Atlanta Hawks $2.4 million for the rights to select Felder 54th overall.

“What happened is the best thing that could happen, because Cleveland had no draft picks and paid over $2 million to get him,” Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said, per Lev Facher of USA Today.

“I think he’ll respond great, but I think Cleveland told him he is tall enough. They told me they thought he was a first-round pick, and they didn’t have a pick, but if they did, they would take him."

Felder's diminutive size may have kept him out of the first round, but his production certainly didn't. The junior led all of Division I with 9.3 assists to go along with 24.4 points (fourth in the nation) per game. His 44-inch max vertical helps to make up for his Nate Robinson-like stature, as well.

We've already caught a glimpse of what Felder can do on the Cavaliers' summer league squad. A spot on the Cavs' regular-season roster is nearly a guarantee, with a chance of becoming Irving's primary backup not far behind.


Team Fit

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13: Kay Felder #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against the Boston Celtics during the 2016 NBA Las Vegas Summer League game on July 13, 2016 at the Cox Pavillion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
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Losing Dellavedova is tough blow for Cleveland, which relied on his steady ball-handling and ever-improving three-point shot to give Irving necessary rest.

Felder is not Dellavedova. Not even close. This is both a positive and a negative: Felder represents both a higher ceiling and a lower floor as a reserve floor general. 

The Cavs desperately needed point guard insurance heading into the offseason, given Irving's and Williams' recent injury histories. The former played in just 53 games last year while recovering from knee surgery and has failed to top 60 contests during three of his five pro seasons.

Williams was bothered by hand and knee issues nearly all of 2015-16; his 41 total games were a personal low in his now 13-year-career. He also admitted he's had knee pain for years and should have to tolerate it for the remainder of his career. At 33 years old, that may not be long.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers warms up before game four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Thankfully, Felder packs enough spring in his lower body to rival a caffeinated kangaroo. His ability to penetrate and willingness to give up the ball is a perfect fit for how the Cavaliers like to orchestrate offense. Head coach Tyronn Lue consistently preaches pushing the pace, getting downhill and kicking out to shooters.

It was widely assumed that Williams would be the Cavs' sixth man last season and that Dellavedova, an undrafted rookie just two years prior, would ride the bench. Even when the former was physically able to go, Lue gave the latter Irving's leftover minutes.

This is a best-case scenario for Felder, who must prove his worth over Williams.



The Cavs never called plays for Dellavedova on offense, as he was but a complementary piece to the team's stars. Felder has the ability to run and execute sets, but his minutes will be primarily earned as a defender and open-shot converter.

It's tough to judge Felder's defensive ability just yet. At Oakland, he was mostly hidden on that side, preserving enough energy to shoulder the offensive load. That won't be an issue (or excuse) when surrounded by LeBron James, Kevin Love and Irving.

Felder will also have a tough time guarding taller NBA point guards, though his solid, muscular build will help prevent post-ups. Being a committed team defender has never been asked of him, and there's bound to be an early learning curve. Lue, being a former defensive coordinator and an NBA point guard himself, should help to ease the transition.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 17:  Denzel Valentine #45 of the Chicago Bulls and Kay Felder #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stand on the court during the 2016 NBA Las Vegas Summer League game on July 17, 2016 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE T
David Dow/Getty Images

Irving and Williams aren't good defenders most of the time, and having Delly to come in and create a few stops was invaluable. Felder must prove to be at least an above-average defender to fill such a role.

While Felder is a much more advanced scorer than Dellavedova, he's yet to show a reliable outside stroke. Guards surrounded by James must have their hands ready and be able to knock down the deep ball when called upon. During seven summer league games, Felder shot just 22.7 percent from three after connecting on a respectable 35.5 percent at Oakland.



After averaging an impressive 15.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks during seven summer league contests (six starts), Felder should be expecting a locker in Quicken Loans Arena this fall.

Progress may be slow; we'll likely see a point guard tandem of Irving and Williams to start the year, giving Felder time to learn his role. Going against Irving every day in practice should greatly enhance his defensive ability, and working from an NBA three-point line regularly will improve his shot in time.

Felder could take over Williams' role as Irving's primary backup during the season. Should Irving continue to miss his usual handful (or more) of games, we'll get a better look at who the Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto describes as a "twin" of Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas.


Complete Stat Predictions

  • Minutes: 10.0
  • Points: 5.2
  • Rebounds: 1.3
  • Assists: 2.1
  • Field-goal percentage: 44.2
  • Three-point percentage: 32.5


Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CavsGregBR. Stats via Basketball-Reference.com.


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