Behold the power of NBA Summer League basketball.
When a player like Carrick Felix is drafted by your team and you have no clue who he is, I imagine I do what every fan does…Google him. I looked up his DraftExpress profile and found him listed at No. 69 on their big board. This naturally drew some head scratching a bit of angry bellowing from some of the other Cavaliers bloggers because from an online rankings standpoint Chris Grant selected a player who wouldn’t have been drafted with the No. 33 pick.
Again: Behold the power of NBA Summer League basketball. Those voices are quiet this morning after two very strong performance by Felix in Las Vegas playing for the Wine and Gold. Felix acquitted himself very well to the Cavs fans by playing hard every minute he was on the court and making plays.
My initially take on Felix after watching his first game is that this kid is what we like to call, in technical terms, a “baller”. He doesn’t have Kyrie’s quickness or Dion’s power. He doesn’t Sergey Karasev’s shooting touch. What he does have is heart, hustle, and desire. Interestingly enough the Cavs played against the Grizzlies on Sunday evening and I couldn’t help but think about what a great fit he would be on that Memphis team with their “grit and grind” mentality.
Felix has shown himself so far through two games to be a tireless worker on the court, something that is evidently a strong element of his character off the court as well. He didn’t have the grades out of high school to attend a DI school so he spent two years at Junior College to get his grades established. After two years he was actually supposed to go Duke but didn’t get in because he was missing a math class reportedly. But the fact that he was able to work that hard to improve and get Coach K to offer him a spot at Duke is a testament to Felix’s work ethic. In his three years at Arizona State he showed more of that hard work that led to steady improvement year after year. Just look at the improvement in his three point percentages: 20.5—31.4—37.4. His PER jumped from 13.2 in 32.9 minutes his second season to 21.8 in 35.3 minutes his third. His TS% climbed from 0.47 to 0.59 from year one to three. His points per possession jumped from 0.99 in year two to 1.13 in year three. It’s obvious if you look at the totality of his work as well his profile as a player and a person that you see the hard work that got Felix drafted at the top the second round. Clearly Grant and the Cavs saw something in Felix that guys who write for internet sites did not.
On the court, in the impossibly small sample size of two summer league games, it’s fun to watch Felix play. In the first game against the Lakers he did a nice job scoring an efficient 14 points on 5-9 shooting (2-3 on 3’s) while also bringing in 6 rebounds. Last night’s game he didn’t show the same scoring touch, only seven points on 2-7 shooting, but he made up for it by grabbing a team-high 11 boards. All of this while playing very tenacious defense and hustling and scrapping all over the floor.
The most intriguing aspect about Carrick Felix though is his potential to bring the high-top fade to Cleveland. This is a big move obviously in the wake of losing out on Nerlens Noel’s trademark fade. Not to mention that we’ve had to watch former Cleveland State point guard Norris Cole rock the high-top in Miami the past two years. It appears from looking at Google images of Felix that he mostly went with the mini-fro while in college. However, in Vegas is certainly appears that he’s trying out the high-top. If he can show up on opening night in November with a well-groomed high-top fade to add to Andy’s perm and whatever Andrew Bynum brings to town, we could be talking about some serious hair-action going down in Cleveland. The possibilities for game promotions are massive.
On a serious note though the actual intriguing aspect about Felix is his ability to play small forward. He’s 6’6” with good length and quickness that could allow him to defend the three in the NBA. He’d probably need to put on a little bit of weight but that possibility is, again, very intriguing. Obviously there’s been a bit of a gaping hole at that position for three years. Alonzo Gee has worked hard to fill it but he’s just not talented enough and makes too many dumb plays to be a long-term option there obviously. It’s yet to be determined if Earl Clark can play consistent strong basketball at the three spot. He got most of his run and was most effective while playing at the four in LA last year. That’s definitely a position to watch going forward.
What Felix has going for him in that completion is naturally his heart and hustle but also his recognition of his limitations. Again, very small sample size, but it appears that Felix knows how to play within his game…something that has eluded Gee to this point. If Felix can just play tough D and knock down open threes then he’ll get minutes. What he needs to avoid is the mindless plays that have seemed to plague Gee. Things like pump-faking a corner three, dribbling into a double team, picking up said dribble, then throwing what amounts to an outlet pass for the opposition starting a fast break. And then when you consider that the corner three is the most efficient shot in basketball, and you have two guards who love to break down the defense and pass out to that spot, it would be nice to have a guy starting who isn’t the worst shooter in the league from the right corner.
It bears noting that Summer League is a place that turns scab players into what looks like All-Stars. I mean, we all remember the summer when Dwayne Jones looked like he could be a dominant big man. But with Felix it’s different. It’s not just the stats (which aren’t jaw-dropping anyways), it’s the play on the court. It’s what you see with your eyes when watch him. And what I see is a straight-up baller who will play in the league.
 Even though I have yet to watch Karasev play a live basketball I’m going to go on assuming that he’s the elite player he appears to be by looking at box scores from over the Europe—even if it is playing against countries like Oman who can only muster 24 points in a whole basketball game.
 He only played one season in JuCo after redshirting his first year with a wrist injury.