Taking A Look At Cavaliers Hopefuls


We’re just a few weeks away from the start of training camp for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and soon the excitement will begin to build as the Cavs begin their march towards the goal of the NBA Championship. But while most of the roster is set (once Tristan Thompson has signed, which he will, to some sort of contract), the fifteenth and final spot on the team is up for grabs. Assuming the Cavaliers even want to fill this spot with an unguaranteed contract, who has a chance of making the team? Let’s take a look at the four players invited to training camp and what they could bring to the table for the Cavaliers.

Jared Cunningham PG/SG

Cunningham was actually the Cavaliers’ first-round pick in 2012, although he was selected for the Dallas Mavericks as part of the trade to move up the draft and pick Tyler Zeller. While he’s a terrific athlete who led the PAC-12 in steals his last two years in college, he hasn’t had any success in the NBA. In the three seasons since he was drafted, Cunningham has only played a total of 195 minutes at the NBA level, with a career field goal percentage of 35.3.Cunningham is a combo guard who doesn’t have the handle of a point guard or the stroke of a shooting guard. Having already been traded and waived twice during his career (not counting draft night), Cunningham could be running out of chances to make it in the NBA. Still, he made the Los Angeles Clippers as a training camp longshot last year, beating out Joe Ingles, who went on to have a solid season for the Utah Jazz.

Jerrelle Benimon PF

Undrafted as a fifth-year senior out of Towson in 2014, Benimon had the briefest of stints in the NBA last season, playing just three minutes over two games while on a ten-day contract with the Utah Jazz. Benimon spent the rest of the season with Utah’s D-League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede, where he was absolutely dominant. Benimon averaged 19.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.0 blocks to the tune of a 22.5 PER in 44 games with the Stampede. Benimon was named a D-League All-Star, All-NBA D-League First Team, and NBA D-League All-Rookie First Team last season. This was after a terrific  final two years of his career at Towson where he was a two-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year.

So what’s kept Benimon from finding a spot in the NBA when he’s that productive? Well, for one thing, he’s just 6’8, and isn’t much of a rim protector. Benimon’s offensive game is also mostly below the rim, he doesn’t space the floor either. While he made the CAA All-Defensive Team his junior and senior years, Benimon has below average size and athleticism for an NBA big man, which hurts him on the defensive end. Still, he’s been an elite rebounder at whatever level he’s played, including averaging 7.6 boards in less than 20 minutes per game for the Cavaliers at the Las Vegas Summer League. If the team decides to keep a sixth big man, Benimon presents an intriguing option.

D.J. Stephens SG/SF/PF/???

Although he’s more of a swingman than a combo guard, Stephens is similar to Cunningham in many ways. An elite athlete, his 40-inch no-step vertical and 46-inch max vertical at the 2013 NBA Draft Combine are the highest ever recorded by the league,and his three-quarter court sprint was the fastest of the year and is currently ranked fifth all-time. This athleticism, along with a seven-foot wingspan, helped Stephens average 2.6 blocks per game during his junior year at Memphis, earning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Honors. Despite this athleticism, Stephens wasn’t selected in the 2013 NBA Draft, and only has three games of NBA experience (with the Milwaukee Bucks in March of 2014) at this point.. So why isn’t he seen as an NBA player?

If Cunningham and Benimon are caught in-between two positions at the NBA level, then Stephens might actually be caught in-between three. While his biggest strengths as a player are his shot-blocking and rebounding, at 6’5” and weighing under 200 pounds, Stephens is the size of a shooting guard. He also has no offensive game to speak of. Stephens has never averaged double digits in points at the collegiate or professional levels, and is a poor shooter from both the free throw line and beyond the arc. He also has no ball handling ability as either a passer or off the dribble. With the sophisticated defenses used in the NBA today, every player on the floor has to be able to contribute something offensively, and Stephens really doesn’t. He also isn’t big or strong enough to play near the basket on offense. Nevertheless, it’s easy to understand why the Cavaliers are intrigued by his athleticism.

Quinn Cook PG

The lone true rookie of the invites, it’s a bit of a surprise Cook is coming to camp with a deep team like the Cavaliers. A former McDonald’s All-American, Cook had a solid, if unspectacular career at Duke, and was a critical player in their run to the National Championship last season. While one of the knocks on Cook has been that he is a jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none, he became a very good outside shooter throughout his career, topping out at 40.1% from deep last season on over six attempts per game. Cook is also highly efficient, taking very few mid-range shots, and scoring well in transition (He the entire 2015 draft class in transition scoring.).

In addition to his shooting, Cook is also a solid playmaker with an assist-to-turnover ratio of over 2.5 to 1.0 during his career at Duke. This is something that has flown below the radar to many, due to Cook spending much of last season playing off the ball alongside Tyus Jones. He is also an aggressive and fundamentally sound defender, despite a lack of ideal size for his position, and has shown a great motor throughout his career. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, one of the most well-known analytics experts covering the game today, has stated that he feels Cook is capable of being a solid backup point guard in the NBA.

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And so we must ask yet again, why hasn’t anyone picked him up before now?. Unlike Cunningham and Stephens, Cook’s physical attributes are a definite minus for him. At 6’2” in shoes and with just a 6’4” wingspan, Cook is undersized at any position in the NBA. He is also a below average athlete by league standards, and didn’t test well at all at the NBA combine (his 31-inch max vertical was one of the worst in the draft). This hurts him on both ends of the floor, as he struggles with scoring at the rim, and doesn’t have the quickness needed to play passing lanes or stay in front of other point guards, despite playing with great energy on the defensive end. While Cook may well prove himself to be an NBA player, teams typically draft for upside, and his is limited.

Looking at all four of these players, it’s understandable why the Cavaliers brought each of them to camp. Each possesses a certain level of skill or athleticism that most general managers would find intriguing, yet they also all have some sort of negative that has kept them from finding a home in the NBA. It will be interesting to see which player (if any) the Cavaliers decide to keep as the last man on the roster. For now though, all four will likely push themselves to the limit as they chase their ultimate dream.

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