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Season-in-Review: ROOKIES

by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Season Overview: Last June, the Cavaliers drafted three players, including Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall selection. But injuries and inexperience kept the trio of Draftees from making major contributions during their freshman season in the NBA. Instead, it was Cleveland’s undrafted rookie, Matthew Dellavedova, who made the biggest splash in 2013-14.

One could almost consider last season a “red-shirt” year for the Cavs’ 2013 Draft class. Bennett never fully rebounded from a shoulder injury that sidelined him through the summer and stunted the start of his career. Sergey Karasev – the No. 19 overall pick last June – needed strength and seasoning and spent the majority of his rookie campaign in Canton. Carrick Felix, taken at the top of the second round, was progressing nicely with the Charge before a left knee injury derailed the second half of his season.

And then there was Dellavedova – the Australian product who starred at St. Mary’s College and won a roster spot after impressive performances in pre-Draft workouts and Summer League. When Jarrett Jack suffered a knee injury in preseason, it gave Delly all the opportunity he’d need to make the squad.

The scrappy Dellavedova did more than just make the team in 2013-14. He saw action in 72 games – starting four and tallying double-digits in 13. By the time the All-Star Break rolled around, Delly was a fixture in Cleveland’s rotation, averaging over 22 minutes a game over the last two months of the season. In that stretch, the Aussie guard registered back-to-back double-doubles off the bench and dropped 21 points – going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc – in a thrilling March 26 road win over the Pistons.

Anthony Bennett’s season didn’t unfold as evenly as Dellavedova’s, but the former UNLV standout did show some glimpses of what he can do when he’s healthy and confident.

Not many top overall picks got off to a rougher start than Bennett did last season, missing the first 16 shots of his young career and weathering some withering critiques as a 20-year-old. But Bennett continued practicing hard and working himself into shape and, by January, the Cavs starting seeing what the Toronto native could be.

His coming-out party might have been a 15-point, eight-rebound performance against New Orleans at The Q on January 28. Two games later, Bennett notched back-to-back double-digit scoring games and the following week, he tallied double-doubles in two of three games – both wins – against Sacramento and Philadelphia. But just as the native Canadian began finding his rhythm, a left knee injury sidelined almost the entirety of his season. Bennett returned for the home finale, netting seven points and seven boards.

Sergey Karasev, selected 18 spots after Bennett, didn’t experience the same frustrations as his fellow first-rounder. But he didn’t make much of a mark at the NBA level in his first year – playing in just 22 games with his longest run coming in a November loss in San Antonio.

Karasev did play well in Canton, however, appearing in 18 regular season games with the Charge – averaging 13.5 points, 5.4 boards and 2.4 assists in 30 minutes per contest. Against the L.A. D-Fenders on March 14, Karasev finished with 21 points and nine boards.

Carrick Felix’ rookie season fell somewhere in-between the two. He spent some of it playing pretty well with the Charge – averaging 11.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists in nine games – before a left patellar stress fracture sidelined almost the entire remainder of the season. The former Sun Devil did manage to save his best for last, however, closing the campaign with a nice 10-point effort in the home finale – going 4-for-6 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from long-distance.

Throughout the year – (although not as consistently as the team would’ve liked) – the Cavaliers’ four freshmen all showed glimpses of how good they can be in the future. We won’t have to wait long to see that future, with Summer League tipping off in just under three weeks.

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Highlight: For Karasev and Felix, their best moments were probably in central Stark County, although Felix did have a strong showing in the aforementioned Cavs finale. Karasev’s best rookie run came in late November, when he totaled eight points and five boards against the eventual World Champs.

Bennett began asserting himself in late January and had a nice run right through the All-Star Break. His best game of the season came against Sacramento on February 11 – going 6-for-9 from the floor, hitting all three attempts from long-range, to go with 10 boards. Delly turned in a slew of solid performances and was one of the teams most dogged defenders – (Andy famously labeled him the team’s “pit bull”) – but his best run might have been a pair of games against Houston and OKC in which he became the last player to record consecutive point-assist double-doubles (off the bench since John Morton in 1991.

Lowlight: Every rookie struggles at some point during their first season in the Association, especially with players entering the league at a younger age.

Anthony Bennett’s shoulder injury affected his entire rookie season; he was behind the 8-ball even after he recovered – trying to play himself into basketball shape while facing the pressure of being the top pick. Carrick Felix’ season was sidelined by injury just as it was picking up steam. The Cavs knew Sergey Karasev would take some seasoning (and a few pounds of muscle), so it wasn’t a big surprise that he spent much of his first year in Canton. As for Dellavedova, he proved to be a true diamond in the rough and should have a spot somewhere in the rotation when 2014-15 tips off.

Odds and Ends: Cleveland’s rookies were a tight group this year. Before road games, they did something even NBA veteran reporters have never seen before: They get together as a group in almost every visiting arena and eat dinner in the media dining room.

Dellavedova, who’s unofficially credited with the ritual, explains …

”Well, at home games, we go to the family room, which is obviously a really good meal. So I guess it became part of the routine at home. But on the road, because we get there so early, we work out, do our stuff in the weight room, eat our meal, get taped and relax in the locker room if we still have time. And we just tried to find a spot on the road as well to do that and that happened to be the media room. And the food’s usually pretty good there. So that’s just how it came about.”

By the Numbers: +70 … Dellavedova’s rookie plus/minus number – the best among all Cavaliers in 2013-14.

Looking Forward: Summer League will be huge for all three of the Cavaliers Draft picks from a season ago, plus the possible incoming duo from this Thursday night. Bennett will get a chance to show his stuff on the hardwood where he excelled in college. He’ll need to show up in shape, confident and ready to put last year behind him. Karasev and Felix need to prove that they’re ready to take things to another level. Dellavedova, who may or may not play in Vegas, will be competing with his Australian national team this summer in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

Quotable: Bennett, following the All-Star Break, on how he was able to stay positive while fighting through some early struggles …

“I just have great teammates, great coaching staff and friends from back home telling me to stay with it. (Saying) ‘Once you get back to Cleveland, just go back to the gym and work on your game.’”

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