Two games into their 2022 NBA 2K23 Las Vegas Summer League slate and the Cleveland Cavaliers are 1-1. On Friday, Cleveland knocked out the Summer League version of the San Antonio Spurs 99-90. But, don't let the score deceive you, this one was far from close with the Cavaliers leading the Spurs by as many as 22 points during the third quarter. R.J. Nembhard led Cleveland in scoring with 20 points while rookie swingman Ochai Agbaji had 16 points in his pseudo-NBA debut. But, more on them in a bit.
Their following game against the summertime Denver Nuggets, meanwhile, wasn't as easy with Cleveland barely losing to Denver 84-76. While Nembhard and Agbaji once again stood out, this time around Cleveland Charge guard Cameron Young was a key scoring factor for the Cavaliers. Young finished the night with 16 points, only behind Nembhard who had 19. But, it was the Peyton Watson and Ismael Kamagate show for the Nuggets, as both took their turns shredding Cleveland's interior defense. The next time out for the Boys of Summer is on Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets.
Granted, it's still early into things for the summertime Cavaliers and there shouldn't be too much stock put into how the team plays overall. At its core, Cleveland is essentially playing in glorified scrimmages and getting an idea of what their next steps should be. But, when breaking down footage and play, there are some things that have stood out individually for certain players early into Cleveland's Las Vegas trip. Today we're going to be breaking that down, and more, in a Summer League edition of Right Down Euclid's key takeaways of Cavaliers basketball.
Has R.J. Nembhard started to show he should be in the rotation this fall?
Two-way guard R.J. Nembhard has looked a grade above the competition all throughout Summer League play. Through Cleveland's first two contests Nembhard is averaging 19.5 points on 48.9% shooting along with 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in roughly 30 minutes per contest. More surprisingly is the fact that Nembhard, who is typically not known for his three-point shooting prowess, is also hitting 66.7% of his attempts from beyond the arc as well.
While there's a chance that the Cavaliers shut down Nembhard for the remainder of Summer League to allow them to further evaluate players on the roster, the former TCU Horned Frog has already made a strong impression. Sure, Nembhard has the luxury of being on a two-way contract which shows the franchise believes in his potential. But, with how he's looked so far in Las Vegas, Nembhard might have shown a bit more than his potential to Cleveland's front office.
Sources have continued to tell Right Down Euclid that the Cavaliers believe Nembhard has the potential to be a two-way point-forward that can be a quality depth piece. But, with the overabundance of established wings ahead of him, along with the recent signings of Raul Neto and Ricky Rubio, it's tough sledding for Nembhard to crack Cleveland's rotation. The thing is, that's totally fine and shouldn't shut down Nembhard being a factor in J.B. Bickerstaff's rotation. Instead, it just makes things even more interesting for the Cavaliers.
If Cedi Osman and Dylan Windler are still on the roster when training camp opens, along with Neto, Isaac Okoro or even Ochai Agbaji, who will be there, players like Nembhard will push them. Nembhard has the potential to be in a similar vein to Lamar Stevens and Dean Wade, who are quality depth that can be called upon in the event of an injury.
But, guys like Stevens or Wade or Nembhard can also push the reserve players to maximize their potential as well. Cleveland has a lot of players who deserve playing time on their roster. But, there's only so many spots in Bickerstaff's rotation. Finding balance in the disarray of it all is key and having players like Nembhard push the reserves will only make the Cavaliers. So, for now, the answer to the question that promoted this response is yes, Nembhard should be considered for Cleveland's rotation come training camp. But, will he get consistent minutes? He'll have to earn it just like everyone else.
Cleveland Cavaliers rookie has looked solid so far during Las Vegas Summer League. But, will he even play for the Cavaliers in his rookie season? Photo credit: Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images.
Ochai's Eleven is getting rave reviews from critics and observers alike
When the Cavaliers took Kansas swingman Ochai Agbaji with the no. 14 pick, it was considered a safer pick. Considering Cleveland almost didn't have the pick, Agbaji answers an immediate need with his athleticism, three-point shooting and defensive acumen. Agbaji's considered a more NBA-ready player out the gate and appears primed to help the Cavaliers immediately. But, based on a report by Basketball News, it may not be so easy for the Cleveland rookie.
In fact, a Cavaliers team source told Basketball News that the plan is to bring Agbaji along slowly at the beginning of the season. And with the guard room filled to the brim, it’ll be difficult for the rookie swingman to crack the rotation right away.
That's all well and good, and league sources confirm that appears to be Cleveland's sentiment with Agbaji at this juncture. But, based on how head coach J.B. Bickerstaff operates, things can change once training camp opens this fall. Mind you, it's only July right now and there's still a bit of uncertainty surrounding Cleveland's roster (Collin Sexton) that can alter the trajectory of things for both Agbaji and the Cavaliers. Things can change quite a bit between now and then and it feels a bit premature to completely write off Agbaji's chances.
What's working in Agbaji's favor is the fact that low-usage, three-point shooting defensive wings are a premium commodity in the NBA. Based on what we've seen so far during Summer League play, Agbaji is exactly as advertised. He's hitting on nearly 39% of his three-point attempts on a pretty healthy volume. Whenever Cleveland is running off of a defensive rebound, Agbaji sprints to fill his lane and is more than ready to swish an attempt from the corner, like in this play in Sunday's loss to the Nuggets.
The Cavaliers are giving Agbaji a healthy diet of three-point attempts in a myriad of ways. Whether it's in motion, off of screens, in isolation – you name it, Agbaji has probably seen in two games of Summer League action. That's what Cleveland wants to happen with Agbaji as well. They want him to feel comfortable taking (and hopefully making) three-pointers in a variety of ways.
If he's able to do that early into his NBA career, it'll unlock a lot of things offensively for the Cavaliers, who ranked in the lower half of the league in three-point percentage last season. It's fair to say Agbaji has to earn his minutes, any player on Cleveland's roster not named Darius Garland, Evan Mobley or Jarrett Allen has to fight for a rotation spot. But, as we discussed in the portion above, healthy competition is a good thing to maximize this roster, Agbaji included.
No, Agbaji's not going to be the next Desmond Bane or Klay Thompson, that's incredibly unfair and foolish to compare Agbaji to either. He's just Ochagi Agbaji, who at this point and is a rare case of a player with quite a bit of potential despite his age. With how Agbaji has looked during his time in Las Vegas with the Cavaliers, he could be on an inside track to crack Cleveland's rotation much earlier than expected.
Some of the players available to the Cavaliers for training camp invites could be right on their own Summer League roster. Photo credit: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images.
Amar Sylla, Cam Young should be early training camp invites for Cleveland
Of the players on the Las Vegas Summer League roster for the Cavaliers, a few members will be present for training camp this fall. Obviously, Ochai Agbaji, Isaiah Mobley and R.J. Nembhard will be there as all three are under contract. Sources say Australian forward Luke Travers may be there as well. But, those same sources say that the plan is for Travers to return overseas for this upcoming NBA season to allow him to further grow and condition while Cleveland waits for roster space to open up down the line.
But, other than the aforementioned bunch, there are two key players that have stood out and should get a training camp invite in Amar Sylla and Cam Young. Sylla, who currently plays for Lithuanian club BC Nevezis, is averaging 14.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a block per game for the Cavaliers. The Senegalese big man also has been nearly perfect from the floor as well, only missing a single attempt in two games.
Sylla has been an intriguing prospect while with Cleveland and, due to his NBA opt-out clause in his Euroleague contract, could come over to the states if an opportunity allows it. If he keeps it up, Sylla could be a strong candidate to be invited to training camp and eventually join the Cleveland Charge, the team's G League affiliate. This could allow him to further develop and he could join the likes of Nembhard, Dean Wade, and Lamar Stevens as high-quality reserves on the back end of the rotation.
Mind you, the same can be said for Young as well. Young spent 13 games with the Charge last season and is already familiar with the system the Cavaliers try to employ. That familiarity, along with his strong play during his time in Vegas, makes him a logical candidate to join the Cavaliers for training camp. In fact, if Nembhard were to ever see his two-way contract be converted to an NBA deal, Young makes a lot of sense to be next in line for a two-way deal. He's a dynamic bench scorer who could be a quality depth piece long-term for Cleveland. Considering how last season went in regards to depth issues, the Cavaliers could use as much help as they can get and utilizing the Charge to help flesh that out would be beneficial to the main club.
To be fair to everyone else on Cleveland's Summer League roster, we're only two games in so far. There could be other standouts but, so far, Sylla and Young have separated from the rest of the group. With three games left on their schedule, a lot can change by then. But, for now, there could be fewer open spaces on the roster when training camp rolls around.
Featured image credit: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at email@example.com. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!