Kay Felder was the 54th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, and he was traded by Atlanta to Cleveland on draft night for cash. The situation Felder is in would suggest that he is a low level player or an international prospect – one who might not even come to the United States to play. Felder, though, will likely have an important role on the Cavaliers this season as they compete for their 2nd championship in a row.
Felder played for a smaller basketball program at Oakland, but he maximized his time there. Last season, Felder averaged 24.4 points, 9.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game on 44% shooting. He won the Horizon League Player of the Year, and Felder was a Wooden Award finalist as well. Felder was also 1st in the Horizon League in minutes, field goals, free throws, assists, points, PER, and box plus/minus.
The knock on smaller school players is that they are supposedly not ready to play against the tougher competition in the NBA. This misconception, however, has been proven wrong by Davidson’s Stephen Curry, San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard, and Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried are just a few of the great small school players that go on to thrive in the NBA.
Felder got off to a good start in his NBA career in Summer League. Felder’s 15.3 points in 29.9 minutes per game show the ability to score efficiently on a per minute basis against NBA level competition. Felder as just a 5’9″ player was able to score against NBA level centers in the paint and taller NBA guards on the perimeter.
Felder has continued his high level of play in preseason. In the Cavaliers blow-out win over the Magic, Felder was given a big opportunity with starting guard Kyrie Irving out to rest. Felder played 23 minutes, and he scored 14 points on 7/11 shooting with four assists, two rebounds, and two steals. The fact that he did this against the Magic is another great sign for Cleveland – the Magic feature a high level interior defender in Bismack Biyombo and a defensively elite coach in Frank Vogel.
Preseason is never a 100% accurate as an indicator of the regular season, but Felder has made the most of every opportunity he has been given in both the NBA and the NCAA. Another 5’9″ player did this already, and Nate Robinson has had a great NBA career so far – he’s averaged as many as 17.2 points per game over a season.
Most importantly for Felder, however, is the presence of an opportunity. Mo Williams and Matthew Dellavedova are both gone from last season, and that leaves Felder as the only back-up true point. Of course Felder will have to compete for minutes against the many off guards Cleveland has like Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Markel Brown, Jordan McRae, Dahntay Jones, and John Holland, but other than Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, Felder is the best ball distributor on the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers certainly got themselves a steal with the 54th pick of the draft this year, and the path is there for Felder to outplay his drafting position. Many of LeBron’s best role players were drafted low – or not at all – Dellavedova was undrafted, as was Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem. James Jones, Mario Chalmers, Mo Williams, and Daniel Gibson were all late picks in the draft, yet all these players thrived playing alongside LeBron James. The 54th pick Felder has the skill and the opportunity to be the steal of the draft this way.