On the Cleveland Cavaliers’ top-heavy roster, it seems like there’s always room for a player — or two or three — to ride the bench in comfortable anonymity for an entire season. Sasha Kaun played 95 minutes, total, last season. In 2014-15, Brendan Haywood managed to crack triple-digits with 119 total minutes.
Even though Kay Felder is a rookie drafted from deep in the second round, a huge hole in Cleveland’s current depth chart means that Felder could be more of a nightly rotation player instead of a human victory cigar. At the moment, Felder is the only point guard on the squad behind Kyrie Irving.
The Cavaliers’ decision to allow Matthew Dellavedova to leave for the Milwaukee Bucks in restricted free agency only started to look regrettable when veteran Mo Williams snuck a surprise retirement on the team in late September. As noted last week by Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Williams has not officially retired with the league — a move that means he is technically still an active member of the roster, with a $2.19 million cap hit. By taking up a roster spot, Williams is also creating chaos for his would-be teammates: Windhorst reports that the Cavaliers are hoping to trade Jordan McRae while receiving an experienced point guard in return.
To top off the whole chaotic situation, Felder may have sustained a concussion in practice last week, meaning their rotation in Tuesday’s season-opening game against the New York Knicks is pretty much going to be held together with duct tape and glue.
We can assume that, when the Cavaliers sent $2.4 million to the Atlanta Hawks on draft night to acquire Felder, they noticed one of the most striking things about him: Felder is only 5’9”. Felder will be only the 14th player to play in the NBA at that height or shorter since the start of the shot clock era (1954-55), and he will be tied with Isaiah Thomas as the shortest active player in the league.
In a way, this might be the best era in league history for Felder to be making his debut. During a prior decade, when offense ran through the low block, Felder might have been posted up into oblivion. More nights than not, here in 2016-17, Felder’s assignment will be to contest — without being expected to block — outside shots.
Still, watching Felder this preseason, he played with a noticeable lack of physicality on the defensive end. Any sort of screen from the opponent usually eliminated Felder (wearing #20) from the play entirely:
Felder’s strengths are clearly on offense, where he shows a balanced approach between distributing the ball and creating his own shots. I really like this next play — which came right after his defensive miscue above — where Felder intentionally absorbed both pick-and-roll defenders in order to purposefully set up the assist:
Interestingly, Felder seems to welcome contact more when playing offense instead of when he plays defense. Later in the same game, against most of the Chicago Bulls’ actual starting unit, he revived a dead possession with a decisive drive out of a pick-and-roll:
Felder has the strength and balance to finish the shot even while being defended well by the much larger Taj Gibson.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they have more margin for error and more room for experimentation than any other team in the regular season. The most important question they have to answer over the next 82 games is: who will back up Irving come the postseason? Unlike most rookies, Felder will have his chance to step up into the role.