Season in Review: CHRISTIAN EYENGA

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Season Overview: Drafted 30th overall in 2009, Christian Eyenga was the Cavaliers’ international man of mystery entering this season. The 21-year-old high-flier played for the Cavaliers summer league squad in Vegas, notching double-figures in all five games. Eyenga began the season in the bigs, but was sent to Erie for some fine-tuning on Nov. 18.

Eyenga was brought back, but didn’t see his first game action until a Jan. 2 loss to the Mavericks. One game later, Eyenga had his coming-out party, netting 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting against Toronto. And less than three weeks after making his NBA debut, Christian was inserted into the starting lineup, where he remained for the next 17 games.

Eyenga saw action in 21 of the Cavaliers final 23 games and, like most rookies, was up and down as he had been all season. He finished the year averaging 6.9 ppg – 13th among rookies. He also finished the campaign 8th in steals (.79) and 9th in blocked shots (.65) among first-year players.

Highlight: Eyenga’s 16-point performance against Toronto was big and he finished the season strong with 13 points against Detroit on April 11, but the single highlight of the rookie’s season had to be a baseline dunk in which he maneuvered around Kobe Bryant and crushed a one-handed dunk in Pau Gasol’s grill in a 104-99 win over the Lakers.

Lowlight: Being sent down to Erie was tough on the rookie and, although getting pulled from the starting rotation at the end of February seemed punitive, probably salvaged his confidence. Eyenga’s low point might have been getting benched – and landing in Byron Scott’s doghouse – for two games late in the season after missing a pair of defensive assignments against Charlotte. (To Eyenga’s credit, however, he bounced back to play well when his number was eventually called one game later.)

Odds and Ends: In his combined games with CB Prat Juventud (2008-09) and DKV Joventut Badalona (2009-10) before coming to America, Eyenga logged a grand total of 1,229 minutes of floor time. In his rookie season with Cleveland – 44 games total – Eyenga saw 947 minutes of action.

By the Numbers: 70 … percent Eyenga shot from the field in two games against his idol Kobe Bryant (the reason he wears uniform No. 8) and the Lakers this season.

Looking Forward: Despite Antawn Jamison jerking Eyenga’s chain that he’ll still be a rookie until he completes 82 games, the swingman from the Congo’s freshman days are over – and he’ll be expected to play that way next season.

Eyenga showed flashes of athletic brilliance this season, but he’ll need to work on some areas to continue on an upward trajectory. Eyenga looks more like a 2 than a 3, and if that’s the case, he’ll have to become a better ball-handler and decision-maker. And like most rookies, he’ll be encouraged to spend some time in the weight room this summer.

And if Eyenga hopes to become a shooting guard, he’ll also have to work on the shooting part. He went .425 from the field overall, but shot just .275 from beyond the arc.

Quotable: Head Coach Byron Scott, speaking about how the language barrier had affected Eyenga earlier this season …

“The language barrier hurts him. We’ll say things in practice that you take for granted most guys will understand, and sometimes we’ll take for granted that he understands. (Eyenga will) say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ (I’ll say) ‘Do you understand, Christian?’ “Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Paul Pressey always says, “If they say three ‘yeahs’ – they don’t understand. If they say, ‘Yeah, yeah” maybe they have a hint. But three yeahs – they don’t have any clue what you’re talking about.

“I hear ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ with Christian at times. But he’s gotten so much better.”