The final 15 games will be an audition for almost every member of the Cavaliers, and that includes their freshman five.
Semih Erden has been battling injuries all season and he’s seen action in just a single game for Cleveland. Christian Eyenga, the Cavs youngest rookie, has plateaued after some solid midseason starts. Manny Harris came off Cleveland’s bench to notch double-figures against Portland. Luke Harangody was a big contributor in Wednesday’s win over Sacramento, as was Samardo Samuels – whose double-digit scoring streak was snapped against the Blazers.
As the NBA’s regular season hits its homestretch, the Cavaliers five frosh will look to make their mark. They’re aware of the Draft picks the franchise is awaiting and that those incoming rookies will be looking for time next year – same as they were this year. If they’re going to impress Coach Scott and his staff, now’s the time to do it.
Meanwhile, the Cavs young bloods continue to carve out their NBA niche as we’ll see in today’s Rookie Report …
Instead, Samardo has been Cleveland’s most consistent starter in the month of March, averaging 13.1 ppg since entering the lineup. Samuels’ double-digit streak came to an end on Thursday, but one night earlier he got the better of DeMarcus Cousins – this year’s No. 5 overall pick – for the second time in their respective rookie seasons.
It doesn’t get easier for Samuels, who’ll likely split time going up against Blake Griffin on Saturday.
How do you think you’ve handled your stint as a starter?
Samuels: I’ve been handling it pretty well. I’ve been banged up a little bit, but it’s been fun. I’ve definitely been enjoying it. I’m getting a little more comfortable every game.
There’s the moment where the game “slows down” for rookies. Has it?
Samuels: It’s definitely slowing down. And I’m definitely hitting a comfort zone to where I’m just playing basketball. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m back to playing basketball.
You always talk about your motivation to prove yourself as an undrafted rookie. Would your motivation be the same if you had been?
Samuels: Yeah. I mean, it’s about the love that I have for the game. I want to be one of the best in the game. I think I’d still be motivated even if I had been drafted.
You’ve been the starting four for the past three weeks. Do you see your future at the four or the five?
Samuels: If I had to play the five, I’d play it. But I feel like at the four, I have the advantage for a four guarding me instead of a five. I feel like a guy that’s the same size as me, I’m hard for him to guard.
Eyenga started 18 games at small forward this season, but with his size and slashing skills, some see him as a big two-guard down the road. Byron Scott was asked about that possibility on Thursday.
‘I really see him as a small forward right now, unless he can really, really improve on his ball-handling and decision-making,” said Coach Scott. “I think he has a chance where he could be a two, but he’d have to really improve in those two areas.
“Right now I think he’s more of a small forward, I think that’s a better position for him now. But as he gets a little older, and a little bit more experience, I think he can definitely play that position.”
Byron Scott added that Christian isn’t the only Cavaliers youngster who needs to have a productive offseason.
“We have so many young guys, there are two or three things that we’re going to hone in on, that they have to work on this summer to get better,” Scott added. “We definitely don’t want to overload (Eyenga), but – ball-handling and making decisions with the ball – those are the two main things right now.”
“If it goes in, it goes in,” quipped the former Domer. “If it looks funny, it’s still worth two or three points.”
That success has kept coaches from tweaking his shooting motion.
“I really don’t let anybody mess with it; it’s gotten me this far so there’s nothing wrong with it,” Harangody continued. “I watch it on tape and it’s unorthodox, but when I’m in a rhythm like I was (on Wednesday night in Sacramento). I know it doesn’t look pure, but that’s just the way it is.”
Former Louisville standout, Samardo Samuels, took some major ribbing – even from his head coach – before Thursday night’s matchup in Portland. Samuels’ 4th-seeded Cardinals were upset earlier in the day by Morehead State. When Coach Scott walked into the locker room and saw a smiling Samuels, he joked: “What the hell are you smiling about? Your team just lost to Morehouse State!”
Samuels asked where Scott’s team, Arizona State, was in the tournament. Scott replied: “At home. Same as yours.”
Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.