In our “What’s Next” series, a Right Down Euclid writer will look at each individual member of the Cleveland Cavaliers by analyzing what their future looks like and/or what’s the next step in their development. In this piece, Chris Manning looks at small forward Sergey Karasev, who had a forgettable rookie season.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Sergey Karasev started just one game as a rookie. It did not go well to say the least. Against the Boston Celtics in late November, Karasev got the start at shooting guard with C.J. Miles and others out with injury. He would only play 15 minutes that night, scoring one point off a free throw and missing his lone field goal attempt. Karasev’s +/- was – 15 and he committed three fouls while on the floor. Simply put, his performance against Boston sums up exactly where he is as a prospect: Not close to being NBA ready.
When Karasev was drafted with the 19th overall pick last June, it was known that he was a raw player, albeit one with the potential to be a good NBA player. He came into the league younger than top-pick Anthony Bennett (who was 20 years old when drafted) and underdeveloped across the board.
When you go back and watch clips of Karasev’s rookie seasons, it’s predictably not pretty. Although the Celtics game deserves attention because it was his first (and, to date, only) start, his rookie year was full of mistakes that hammer home the point that Karasev just isn’t ready to compete at an NBA level. His game tape is filled with intercepted passes that created easy buckets for other teams, hastily taken 3-pointers and poor ball handling in the open floor. And that’s just on offense.
On defense, the book on Karasev is essentially the same as it was before the draft: He doesn’t move well laterally, but he puts forth effort. On defense, despite being slow and at times losing his man, he did his best to recover and get a hand up before his man got a shot up. Overall, although it appears that Karasev doesn’t have elite athleticism, he seems to have a high basketball IQ for someone who is only 20 years old. His shot selection needs improvement, but he showed a good understanding to where to move on the floor in his limited minutes and has a good stroke. In transition, Karasev often floated outside of the 3-point line to make himself available for a swing pass, which is the right move considering skillset.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to be an elite athlete to be a serviceable NBA player, although it does help. If you can stick open shots, handle the ball when asked to and play smart, effortful defense, you can make a good living on an NBA team. Just ask Kyle Korver
This isn’t to say that I think Karasev is going to become Korver. It’s not likely that Karasev ever gets to Korver’s level or evolves into a truly elite shooter. Players like Korver – not elite overall, but elite in one area and solid in all others – are hard to come by. But the Cavaliers could still get solid production out of Karasev is he can keep improving his shot and develop some ball handling skills while learning the complexity of NBA defense. To do so, Karasev will need time and be put in the right situations to succeed and grow.
Karasev will get the time. Again, he’s only 20 years old and, unlike a few of his teammates, he isn’t facing the pressures of being a lottery pick on a bad team in a city that wants to win right now, realistic expectations be damned. The method of development, however, is important. As I see it, there are three options for Karasev next season. In all scenarios, Karasev will first play for the Cavs’ summer league team in Las Vegas and see significant playing time alongside Bennett and Matthew Dellavedova.
The first is that he is a full-time member of the Cavs. The second is that he splits his time between the Cavaliers and the Canton Charge in the D-League, which he did this past season. The last is that he spends all of next season in Canton before coming back to the Cavaliers after the Charges’ season wraps up a few weeks before the NBA season ends.
Ideally, the Cavaliers would go with the first option. Even Karasev only saw the floor 22 times again next season, he would be able to be coached by Mike Brown and his staff daily. He would also be able to practice against the likes of Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving and whomever the team brings in this offseason on the wing regularly and travel with the team all year. The problem here, however, is that the Cavaliers already have a project player on the roster (Anthony Bennett) a slew of other young players still developing. This past season, the Cavaliers were the NBA’s second youngest team with an average age of 24.7. At 20, Karasev was the youngest player on the roster. Depending on whom the Cavaliers select in June, he still might be.
As a result, it may be in Karasev’s best interest to, at the very least, spilt time between Canton and Cleveland next season. Canton’s proximity to Cleveland means that he can still practice with the team when the Cavs are at home while still seeing regular, consistent playing time with the Charge. In theory, this could put Karasev on the path to possibly becoming a member of the Cavs’ rotation in the 2015-2016 season.