March Madness standout could be another draft night steal for Cavaliers

Nebraska v Indiana
Nebraska v Indiana / David Berding/GettyImages

The Cleveland Cavaliers are no strangers to finding key contributions from unforeseen role players, and with rising salaries, Cleveland's trend will likely be their best path forward.

While the highest point of excitement in every year's NBA Draft is the potential superstars at the top of the lottery, but the talent pool in the league is constantly expanding with teams finding talent later in the night. The Cavs have most recently discovered hidden talent in Dean Wade and Craig Porter, Jr., two players who began their careers in the G-League with the Charge. Porter joined Cleveland as an unsigned rookie, eventually earning a standard multi-year deal this season after emerging as a hidden gem amid injuries to the star cast.

Cleveland's fifth starter Max Strus spent a handful of season in the G-League as well before the Miami Heat's 2023 run to the NBA Finals. By building their supporting cast through unexpected routes, the Cavaliers should feel confident entering the 2024 draft as the rest of the league considers this rookie class underwhelming.

As March Madness takes place, Cleveland's scouts may already have found another overlooked talent who perfectly fits into the team's timeline and trajectory.

The Cavaliers should keep an eye on Kesei Tominaga

In his senior season, 23-year-old sharpshooter Keisei Tominaga looks primed to jump into the NBA and make an offensive impact. After his junior year, he was left off of most scouting boards, seen as a late second-round pick at best. Though he has led the Nebraska Cornhuskers this year with 14.9 points and 37.2 percent from deep, he is still viewed as a likely undrafted rookie. Regardless of the doubt surrounding his future, Tominaga deserves a shot at the NBA after this collegiate season.

If the NBA continues to pass on a proven and skilled point guard, the Cavaliers have a track record of developing hidden talent and should steal him from their rivals this summer. Currently, the Cavs only have one second-round pick that is protected from picks 31-55. If Tominaga goes undrafted or Cleveland adds another pick to their asset pool, they should seriously consider targeting the Nebraska superstar.

Tominaga's biggest weakness has always been his size, standing at 6-foot 2-inches. He is not a freak athlete with immense speed or jumping power, making him heavily disadvantaged on defense. Still, his elite three-point shooting and high basketball IQ makes him an ideal late-draft swing for the Cavs. Born in Nagoya, Japan, Tominaga has thrilled the Nebraska fanbase since his arrival with his lethal offense and killer instinct in the clutch. His fearless shooting and contagious celebrations have taken the internet by storm lately and thrust him into the spotlight of March Madness.

Admittedly, the Cavs already struggle with a relatively small backcourt with Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Porter. Adding another short guard could hurt them defensively, but Cleveland has maintained one of the best defenses across the league despite their physical limitations. Additionally, adding Tominaga to their G-League affiliate for the first season would allow the dynamic guard to adapt his game to the NBA and work with trained athletic staffs who could lift his conditioning to the NBA level.

Cleveland has used the Charge as a developmental team with no reason to stop doing so. While Tominaga's older age entering the draft might dissuade some scouts, the Cavs should embrace his present experience, as Porter also joined the team after a full run in college hoops. Teams with a win-now focus are less likely to provide necessary development to one-and-done rookies, making seniors a better option. The Miami Heat have found similar success in Jaime Jaquez, Jr., selecting him eighteenth overall and putting him into the nightly rotation immediately.

The Cavaliers have built their offense around their guards and three-point shooting, making Tominaga an ideal candidate for a spot on the team. Ideally, he would follow a similar path to Wade and Porter with a two-way deal as he develops and proves himself for the Association.

Looking into the future, Tominaga could be a major factor for the Cavaliers to stay competitive without breaking the bank. After Tominaga's rookie season, the Cavaliers would face Sam Merrill entering free agency and surpassing Cleveland's price range. Merrill has been on an incredibly team-friendly contract, making less than $3 million per season with the Cavs. With his breakout season this year, Merrill will surely command more money than a minimum contract next time. If Tominaga's shooting and playmaking can translate to the NBA, the Cavaliers would have guaranteed insurance if Merrill leaves.

Additionally, if Cleveland's other sharpshooting prospects do not make the team, Tominaga again is a proven shooter who can step in and fill a needed role. As older prospects consistently find their role in the Association and contribute to a winning team immediately, the Cavaliers should follow suit and trust in their process that has already produced numerous times.

By the time the draft comes around, another team might realize Tominaga and take him off the board before Cleveland has the chance. But, the Cavaliers should keep an eye on the March Madness star and do what they can to give themselves a shot at bringing in another cheap deadeye shooter.

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