Odds are they won’t go through a season as difficult as this one, record-wise. But all five can consider this year as invaluable in their development. They’ve each gotten great opportunities to prove their case – more of an opportunity than most rookies, especially considering their draft status. (Only one of Cleveland’s rookies was a first-rounder – Christian Eyenga, No. 30, overall. Harangody was the 52nd overall pick, Erden, No. 60. Manny and Samardo were undrafted.)
Through their first season’s body of work, some of Cleveland’s rookies have punched their ticket for next year. But all five will have to come to Camp hungry, ready to compete against another class of draft picks.
As we publish our final Rookie Report of the season, Erden gets his shot in the starting lineup, the conclusion of Samuels’ season went from fruitful to frustrating. Harangody continues to get consistent minutes. Manny Harris got a hometown start on Monday night and Christian Eyenga got some rare crunch time minutes – and capitalized.
- Previous to Saturday’s matchup in Milwaukee, Christian Eyenga spent a couple games in Byron Scott’s doghouse. Earlier in the week, Christian missed a defensive assignment against Charlotte, was told about it, and made the same mistake again.
Asked before the Milwaukee game if Eyenga was back in Byron’s good graces, Coach smiled: “Not yet. I’m not saying you won’t see him (on Saturday). I’m just saying he’s not back in my good graces yet. He knows it.”
But when A.P went down with back spasms, the door was open for Eyenga, who finished with five points in relief on Saturday, but played big fourth-quarter minutes in Monday’s heated win over Detroit. The 21-year-old, nicknamed “Skyenga” – (which he kinda loves) – finished with 13 points, 10 in the second half, on 6-for-11 shooting.
That’s the way for a rookie to get out of his head coach’s doghouse.
“He was good, especially defensively,” said Coach Scott after Monday’s win. “I thought he did some good things for us on the defensive end. Made some good decisions on the offensive end as far as moving the ball when he didn’t have a shot, made one great cut where he made a layup, so, he did some good things on both ends of the floor tonight.”
- After practice on Tuesday afternoon, the high-flying freshman from the Congo talked a little bit about his rookie campaign.
What are some of your highlights from your rookie season?
Christian Eyenga: My best moment with the team? The dunk on Pau. The game against Toronto, my second game. There were a couple games I played good. I played good yesterday (against Detroit). The popcorn in my car.
That was a highlight?
Eyenga: It was funny. Now I know how to do it with the vets, you know.
Are you glad to be done with the Krispy Kremes?
Eyenga: Antawn tells me I’m still a rookie next year, too. So I don’t know. He tells me I’m still a rookie until I have 82 games. I have to buy donuts next year, too! I have to have 82 games.
I don’t think that’s correct.
Eyenga: He’s a vet! That’s what he said!
What do you need to work on this offseason?
Eyenga: I want to work to be consistent with my three-point shot. From the corner, I have a better percent. But from the top and the wing – I need to work on my wing (shooting) a lot. I will work on my handle, because I need to play the 2 and not the 3, exactly. The coaches tell me I’m a “wing,” that I can play 2 and 3. So, I need to work a little bit on my handle, attack the rim. My footwork, too.
You chose No. 8 because Kobe was your basketball idol growing up. What was it like to play against him?
Eyenga: I want to beat him, first of all. It was one of my best games because I knew it was Kobe and I want to win. That’s why I played hard. He made a couple shots because he is a great player, but I didn’t want to make it easy for him. But I talked to Chris (Jent) before the game and said, ‘Man, it’s Kobe! I want to beat him, man.’ And he said, ‘Let’s do it.’
Are you better on the defensive end?
Eyenga: A lot better. If you see me play last year to this year, you can tell. It’s not the same Christian from the Summer League as now. From Summer League to now, it’s two different players.
Have you enjoyed your first real season as a Cavalier?
Eyenga: I love to be here, man. I love to be here. The coaches help me a lot. Coach Scott, Coach Jent, Coach J.P., Coach Mose, Coach Press. They’ve just helped me a lot. They want me to be better.
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.