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All Good Things to Those Who Wait

Dylan Windler Looks to Hit the Re-Set Button on His Rookie Season
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

All Good Things
to Those Who Wait

Dylan Windler Looks to Hit the Re-Set Button on His Rookie Season

Being a passionate sports fan and being a patient sports fan don’t always go together.

We want what we want when we want it. Sometimes that immediate gratification is the beauty of sport. But sometimes, things take time to unfold.

In the pro hoops world, Hot Rod Williams didn’t begin his playing career with the Cavaliers until after his 24th birthday. David Robinson was the same age when his Hall of Fame career began. Dennis Rodman was 25 when he made his league debut.

No one’s saying Dylan Windler’s career will mirror Hot Rod, Rodman or the Admiral’s. But after the numbers that the lefty from Indianapolis put up in four seasons at Belmont, it’s certainly not unthinkable.

Selected with the 26th overall pick in the 2019 Draft, it looked for a moment last summer that Windler would be the only Cavs rookie – of the three drafted in the first round – to see early action for the Wine & Gold. He played in both Summer League sessions for Cleveland, averaging double-figure scoring in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas while doing a majority of the ball-handling to boot.

But Windler suffered a lower leg injury that required surgery – and after an attempted return in late January – the Cavaliers decided to shut him down for the season. When next year’s rookie class rolls in, Windler will essentially be considered part of that group.

After the smoke cleared on draft night last year, Windler looked to be the surest commodity.

Windler was rock-solid in Cleveland's dual Summer League sessions in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas last summer. David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Darius Garland had the smooth shooting touch, but he’d played just five games in college at Vanderbilt. Kevin Porter Jr. had the kind of natural do-it-all potential that scouts drool over, but he suited up for just 21 contests at USC.

Windler’s four-year collegiate body of work was beyond impressive when Cleveland tabbed him at 26. He played more games as a senior (33) than the other two picks combined and finished his career suiting up for 128 overall.

The standout two-sport athlete – who can whack a golf ball 350 yards – also came into the league with something else his classmates didn’t (and, unfortunately next year’s entire rookie class won’t) – NCAA Tournament experience. And it wasn’t just an experience. Windler went off for 35 points and 11 boards as Belmont nearly upset perennial hoops heavyweight Maryland in the First Round.

One of three seniors taken in the Draft’s first round last year – along with UNC’s Cameron Johnson and Washington’s Matisse Thybulle – Windler came to camp last year looking to challenge Cedi Osman at the small forward spot.

He posted huge scoring numbers at Belmont and proved he was NBA-ready as a senior – posting seven games of at least 30 points, including a 41-point outburst in a win over Morehead State. In that 2018-19 season, he led the Ohio Valley Conference in three-point field goals (100), three-point field goal percentage (.429). He led the conference in overall field goal percentage (.559) as a junior.

But what’s maybe most surprising about Windler is what a prolific rebounder he’d been over his career. He doesn’t exactly project Mark Eaton in the low block and he’s also a versatile offensive player, unlike the aforementioned Worm.

Despite his lithe frame, Windler grabbed double-digit boards on 21 occasions as a senior, including a 21-rebound effort (to go with 32 points) in the OVC Tournament opener against Austin Peay.

In 2018-19, he led the OVC in defensive rebounds (293), total rebounds (357) and rebounding average (10.9rpg). As a junior, he paced the Conference in defensive rebounds (250), total rebounds (307) and rebounding average (9.3rpg).

"For me, a lot of (rebounding well) is just anticipation and reading the ball off the shooter's hand and anticipating where it's going to go – and then just beating your man to the ball, whether it's getting around him or beating him to the spot. A lot of guys, when the shot goes up, they tend to look at the ball first. I'm trying to get around my man right when the shot goes up and then find the ball. So, it's a lot of positioning and anticipation.”

When Summer League(s) wrapped up last year, Windler was right on schedule – averaging 11.0 points on 40 percent shooting to go with 4.7 boards per in Salt Lake City; 10.3ppg, 5.0rpg and 44 percent shooting in Vegas. He looked the part.

Which brings us back to the patience thing.

Last year, Darius Garland – who played 55 more contests than he did at Vandy – was up and down all season until he started figuring it out in February, averaging 12.9ppg and 5.1apg and notching double-figures in 11 of his last 12 games. Kevin Porter Jr. was also trending upward after some early struggles – exploding for 30 points in a dramatic overtime win against Miami and averaging 16.2ppg over his full final five games.

Windler experienced his true rookie season from the sidelines – soaking up the NBA experience in civvies. But Windler plans on being ready to roll when the Wine & Gold tip off again in 2020. He’s got a lot to prove. And he’s ready to reward his fans for their patience.

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