The Cleveland Cavaliers purchased a second round draft pick from the Atlanta Hawks, and with that selection, they chose the small point guard out of Oakland University, Kay Felder. He has shown a propensity for playmaking, but will his skill set transfer to the NBA?
Why not start this article on Kay Felder with a cliched reference to how he is one of, if not the smallest players in the league? Probably because there's absolutely nothing small about his potential.
Bursting onto the 2016 NBA Summer League scene, Kay Felder ran the Cavaliers Summer League team with great skill and poise, but this was not the first time that Felder has shown the huge talent that he was blessed with.
Being merely average height is something that is a hindrance in the sport of basketball. Kay Felder has been managing to get around that hindrance since he was in high school.
Coming out of high school, Felder was not heavily recruited, nor was he recruited by any major schools. He was recruited by schools like Akron, Oakland, and St. Bonaventure, and he decided during his senior season of high school to sign with Oakland University.
While he was at Oakland, Felder showed flashes that he had some real NBA potential. He was the Horizon League freshman of the year, averaging 9.5 points and 6.4 assists a game. During his sophomore year, he really picked up his individual scoring as well as his assisting, bumping his numbers up to 18.1 points and 7.6 assists per game. During his Junior year at Oakland, he was on the radar of many NBA teams. His play was simply stellar. He, at one point, was leading the nation in both scoring and assisting, finishing fourth in the nation in scoring per game at 24.2 points per game and he finished the season as the top assist-man in the country at 9.3 assists a game.
It was obvious at this point that Felder had real NBA potential, and teams were caught off guard by what Felder did at the NBA combine. Not only did Kay Felder jump out of the gym, but at his (listed) height of 5'9", he tied for second all-time in NBA combine history by recording a vertical jump of 44 inches. His playmaking was a known commodity, but now it was apparent that his athleticism is unquestionable.
After falling out of the first round and down toward the bottom half of the second round, Felder was finally selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 54th selection of the second round. This pick was later bought by the Cavaliers, and Felder reported to the Cavaliers for their Summer League schedule.
During the 2016 Las Vegas Summer League, Felder averaged 15.3 points and 3.9 assists during the tournament. He and Jordan McRae led the Cavaliers to the semi-finals where they would lose to eventual champions the Chicago Bulls. During the tournament, Felder had a number of tremendous pocket passes, but the one thing that stood out was his athleticism and his speed. Felder is a blur on the court, changing direction as if on rails, which is a problem for defenders who have trouble keeping up with his herky-jerky motions.
The two pieces of his offensive game that show the most promise moving forward are his ability to get to the rim seemingly at will, along with his pull-up elbow jumper. Using these two skills to great effect in the Summer League, Felder abused opponents with his mid-range shooting at or near either elbow, along with his crafty ball handling that allowed him to dance to the bucket with little opposition from his defender.
Another thing that was evident from watching him in the Summer League was that he has tremendous court vision and is aware of the location of his teammates around him on the floor. Making timely, pinpoint passes will always have a place in an NBA offense, and doing so with regularity will be a surefire way to guarantee playing time.
During his limited playing time with the Cavaliers, Felder has shown the ability to score as well as get his teammates involved. His playmaking has been much more evident in the D-League stints he has had with the Canton Charge. He is averaging 30 points, seven rebounds, and six assists per game on 44% shooting. He is dominating the competition around him in the D-League, and the Cavaliers have been routinely sending him down to the Charge in order to build his personal confidence as well as to keep his game sharp while he is spending most of the Cavalier games on the bench.
In a year or two, it would not be shocking to see Kay Felder be the full-time backup point guard on this team with a very healthy, regular rotation spot. His abilities are not limited by his small form-factor, but he uses this to his advantage. His small size makes him more difficult to defend on the perimeter because he is typically quicker (laterally) than his defender. Using this to his advantage, he can get his opponent either off-balance or out of position, which will open up lanes to the basket, passing lanes, or will give him some airspace to pull up for a jumper. Felder will look to follow in the footsteps of fellow NBA small man Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics to find an example of how to pattern his game in order to make full use of his skills and stature.
It's common to be told not to judge a book by its cover. In the NBA, small guys are typically looked at as inferior due to their vertical limitations, however, players like Kay Felder are starting to cause that notion to become old and tired. It is now possible to talk about Kay Felder without making jokes about their height, but what should be noticed and discussed is his huge potential.