CLEVELAND, Ohio — Lower than 4 minutes into the Summer season League opener, Cleveland Cavaliers level guard RJ Nembhard dribbled close to the highest of the sideline and referred to as a set. Rookie sniper Ochai Agbaji was in the correct nook. As Nembhard made his transfer, dribbling between his legs, then contained in the arc and in direction of the close to elbow, Agbaji began operating to his left. Nembhard despatched the ball to Agbaji on the correct wing. Stepping away from the ring, Agbaji planted his toes and stood up for his first shot try – an arcing 3-pointer over the darting defender.
Agbaji, the No. 14 draft decide who was chosen largely due to his popularity as a shooter, knew instantly. He landed and backpedaled earlier than the ball even crossed the web.
Moments later, Cleveland carried out the identical motion for Agbaji, solely on the opposite facet of the sphere with ahead Isaiah Mobley initiating the assault. Drifting to his proper, Agbaji scored his second hat-trick. Not a foul begin.
It shortly grew to become clear what the Cavs had been planning when drafting him within the first spherical. These two video games – and what he is proven all through Summer season League – gave a primary have a look at how he’ll be rolled out in a couple of months.
“We all know what a superb shooter he’s and the way effectively he runs off the screens,” mentioned Mike Gerrity, the group’s participant growth coach who led the Summer season League facet. “I think about that will probably be a means for JB (Bickerstaff) to make use of him within the common season.
Earlier than leaving for Las Vegas, Bickerstaff arrange totally different units and video games to showcase every particular person participant. Agbaji was the offensive focus.
At minicamp, a member of the group joked that Agbaji was taking 10 3s per sport. Agbaji laughed and mentioned he would do regardless of the teaching workers wanted. Earlier than the primary sport, Gerrity gave Agbaji the proverbial go-ahead, repeatedly telling him to shoot even when the jumpers weren’t falling.
“It is good. It is what everybody asks for. I am fortunate to have this chance and to have these guys who consider in me a lot,” mentioned Agbaji. offers increasingly confidence to maneuver ahead, realizing that they belief me and wager on me for our success.
The Cavs are hoping that wager will repay. Instantly.
Agbaji isn’t one other inexperienced teenager who wants time to mature – bodily and mentally. At 22, with 116 video games of school expertise, Agbaji is additional alongside the event curve. Some mission tipsters mentioned Agbaji was unfit of a lottery choice due to his age – and the perceived low ceiling. However the reconnaissance workers did not fall for that. His preparation was engaging for a group looking for a playoff spot in 2022-23.
So despite the fact that the group has publicly downplayed his potential influence on the rookie 12 months, not desirous to stress him and allocate undeserved enjoying time, this gunshot will make it troublesome to maintain him out of the sport. the rotation, irrespective of how deep, the place of the two guards is – Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, (possibly?) Collin Sexton. Agbaji brings one thing totally different. These different guys do not have the identical capturing prowess. They do not present the identical menace off the ball. LeVert and Sexton are far more snug with the ball of their fingers. None of them can dash across the screens with the identical fluidity.
Pindowns. Loops. Slip. Elevators. Flares. DHO (dribble transfers). Pull-ups. Mushy. Hammer. Flex. These are just some actions the Cavs have deliberate. They’ve already mentioned establishing extra catch-and-shoot video games.
“He is confirmed himself lethal behind the arc,” Gerrity mentioned.
Mortal works. However striated is likely to be a extra acceptable time period. Agbaji has performed in 4 of 5 Summer season League video games, other than Saturday’s Finals in opposition to the Atlanta Hawks. There have been two video games wherein he made 4 3s. Then there have been two video games wherein he struggled, one coming the second evening in a row with lots of these makes an attempt narrowly missed – an indication away from drained legs.
Total, Agbaji averaged 15.0 of 19-51 (37.2%) from the sphere and 12 of 32 (37.5%) from 3-point vary.
Because the event progressed, opposing groups harassed Agbaji. They had been extra bodily, squeezing him on the perimeter and forcing him to place the ball on the bottom. This led to the next diploma of issue on shot makes an attempt, lots of which had been hotly contested and out of tempo. Whereas the elevated consideration performed a component in his inconsistency, it additionally let him know the place enhancements are wanted.
“It is nice for him,” Gerrity mentioned of the Summer season League expertise. “It is going to put together him for the physicality of the league. It is going to solely enhance when he enters the NBA.
Agbaji confirmed some gameplay components. However he principally struggled with shot creation — a problem that additionally surfaced on his Kansas tape. He was additionally not competent from 2 factors in Vegas. An ominous signal or a brief pattern blip?
“Guys are going to be into him and pressure him to play inside that 3-point line,” Gerrity mentioned. “I feel he’ll get simpler seems to be within the common season and hopefully we create conditions the place he will get extra catch-and-shoots as a substitute of getting to run away from so many screens. Discover that stability. However I feel that can positively be a part of his growth, preserve placing him on the ground and attending to his midrange and attending to his drive-and-kick, these are all issues he can take this offseason.
Different executives and coaches who spoke with cleveland.com had been saying the identical factor. It wasn’t a lot about Agbaji’s Summer season League numbers. It was all about projecting how he would possibly fare together with his regular-season Cavaliers teammates.
Agbaji was drafted in to deliver ceiling dimension to the offense, creating house for Cleveland’s offensive thoughts guards. However having a greater supporting forged will assist cover a few of its flaws. The Cavs do not want one other ball-dominating designer. They do not want him to be a go-to scoring choice. They do not even want him to play half-hour a sport. They want him to be a dependable – and prepared – outdoors shooter and complementary piece. They want his movement-based expertise and off-ball set to assist diversify a predictable offense.
When the common season begins, Agbaji will not be the primary identify on the scouting report like his senior 12 months at Kansas or all 4 Summer season League video games. How can defenses give him further consideration once they share the ground with All-Star Darius Garland, Ricky Rubio, Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Love, LeVert and possibly Sexton. Think about the Garland-Allen pick-and-roll with Agbaji spaced within the nook as a substitute of, say, Okoro or LeVert.
Staying linked to Agbaji – very like Summer season League – will give Garland a clearer path to the paint. Helping Agbaji will give a succesful shooter an open look. That is not even bearing in mind Cleveland’s nice expertise rolling within the paint.
“He can sit on that perimeter and take a couple of down simply,” Gerrity mentioned. “He will have a variety of different guys who’re going to take that load off him.”
Summer season League is a time of experimentation. Gerrity, who believes in Agbaji’s untapped potential as a ball handler and playmaker, has given him the chance to indicate it. Gerrity additionally praised Agbaji’s tenacity and willpower in protection which stood out on the primary day of coaching. If Agbaji can maintain his personal at this finish of the sphere, the Cavs will lastly have their 3 and D two-way wing.
“It is loopy. Going from enjoying in opposition to one another within the Large 12 to enjoying with one another is superior,” mentioned RJ Nembhard who spent 4 years collegiate at TCU. , and possibly the simplest teammate I’ve ever performed with. Hyper assured. Can play each ends. Nice shooter. He can create for others, and he does not complain, even when he does not shoot effectively He’ll proceed to inject power into the group and proceed to push and be assured. I really like enjoying with a man like that.
Agbaji needed to show to Summer season League that he was a deserved lottery decide. Vegas isn’t the place to try this. July isn’t the time. He can have this opportunity in the course of the common season. However the previous 10 days have proven one thing: the various methods he may also help.
“I feel he has huge intangibles,” Gerrity mentioned. “He is a extremely good chief and only a arduous employee and a competitor. I feel that carries over to his teammates. If he is capable of do issues defensively, together with his capturing potential on the offensive facet, he going to have an ideal profession on this league.
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