Cleveland Cavaliers: Mfiondu Kabengele back feels like a long shot

Cleveland Cavaliers big Mfiondu Kabengele looks to pass. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers big Mfiondu Kabengele looks to pass. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

We didn’t see a ton of extended playing time for Mfiondu Kabengele with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kabengele was first signed to a 10-day deal, then given a second 10-day deal. Then following that, he was ultimately signed to a multi-year contract, essentially for the league minimum, with the two years following this past season non-guaranteed from there.

That was from an end-of-season depth standpoint, really though, and for the Cavs to get a longer look at Kabengele in the closing batch of games.

Plus, it was seemingly to enable Kabengele to have more developmental time with the club in the upcoming offseason, and to keep working on his game leading into training camp/preseason and/or possibly next season. It’s tough to read more into it than that.

In Kabengele’s time with the Cavaliers in 2020-21, he had 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per outing; that was in 16 appearances. While injuries did play into it, particularly to Isaiah Hartenstein and somewhat with Jarrett Allen previously banged up, to go with Larry Nance Jr. in the closing stretch, Kabengele did get some more opportunities than initially.

In the last 12 games, he had some time and had 5.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per contest, to go with 0.8 blocks.

There were a few outings that were very encouraging from him, though, and while the one was a blowout L to the Dallas Mavericks, Kabengele did have a career-best 14 points in that one. He followed that up with nine points, and hit two-of-four from three-point range in Cleveland’s closer loss to the Indiana Pacers.

And to end out the now-past season, Kabengele did provide energy, and had eight points and a career-best 10 rebounds, albeit in a loss at the Brooklyn Nets.

It was meaningful for Kabengele, who barely had any meaningful opportunities in his first 1.5 seasons with the LA Clippers, aside from his PT with their G League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers, to have some real chances in-game with the Cavs.

That said, in relation to next season, I don’t foresee Kabengele being back for the regular season’s start, objectively.

Kabengele being back next season with the Cavs feels like a long shot.

Kabengele didn’t play much with LA, as was noted, but he get plenty of PT with Agua Caliente in 2019-20, and in G League opportunities, had 18.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Although it wasn’t an efficient clip per se, Kabengele did at least flash some floor spacing potential/catch-and-shoot capabilities for down the road also; he hit 32.3 percent from three. That was on a robust 6.0 attempts per game though, which was a healthy volume.

There were some instances where Kabengele did show some catch-and-shoot potential in this brief stint with the Cavs so far, too, albeit the often line drive-type shot for him does need work. It still does seem a ways out before he can be a viable floor spacing threat, and a question mark if that will be the case, really.

Anyway, as we noted, with next season in mind, while Kabengele was signed to that multi-year deal, each year from here is set to be non-guaranteed. And with the priority seeming to be the roster spot, I would think it’s a long shot that Kabengele ends up sticking on the regular season for the start of next season.

He still has a long way to go on the offensive end, is not a player that is likely an on-ball threat against NBA bigs, and though he did get some putbacks/provide energy, the lack of touch was apparent.

And on the defensive end, the lack of quickness laterally is a continued concern with him. Fouling issues are clearly as well, even to a degree dating back to his collegiate days at Florida State.

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Kabengele did show some shot blocking capabilities in a rotation sense at times, but the 6-foot-9 big needs work still with just staying vertical with his contests and letting his 7-foot-3 wingspan help him it seems.

Lastly, in relation to the others involved, it’s clear that Jarrett Allen will likely be back and locked up long-term, and Isaiah Hartenstein it’d appear could definitely be brought back via new free agent deal by Cleveland.

And I wouldn’t expect Kabengele to factor into the potential 4 man rotation, frankly, with the shooting/on-ball concerns. That’s also not even with the likes of a possible combo forward draft pick, such as Jonathan Kuminga, Scottie Barnes and/or Jalen Johnson, for example.

Now, I would still expect Kabengele to be with the Cavaliers in training camp, and could very well get some preseason playing time/an extended look. It just seems as if the roster spot will be more valuable than a third 5 that is a project big, and/or Cleveland could look to go a different direction eventually.

I could theoretically foresee Cleveland possibly end up waiving Kabengele and sign him to a two-way deal heading into the season, however, when there should be a considerable amount of PT for him with Cleveland’s G League affiliate, the Canton Charge. That’s if seemingly Jeremiah Martin, in particular, isn’t back via that.

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Of course, if the 23-year-old Kabengele looks to have made notable progress in the offseason, perhaps he’ll be again back for next regular season with the Cavs via traditional roster spot. I just wouldn’t expect that at this point.