The Cavaliers may not have had a draft pick this past June, but that has not stopped them from adding a rookie with some upside. Reportedly agreeing to terms with Samardo Samuels, an undrafted 6-foot-9-inch, 240-pound power forward out of Louisville, the Cavs have managed to provide themselves with a potential frontcourt presence while not guaranteeing any compensation beyond the 2010-11 season.
The 21-year-old Samuels has provided mixed results over the past few years at the collegiate level. He was a consensus top recruit out of high school ahead of guys like Tyreke Evans and DeMar DeRozan, but he seemingly failed to live up to expectations through two seasons with the Cardinals. Apparently feeling like he was ready to move on to the next level, the wide-bodied big man opted to take a shot at the NBA where he would ultimately go undrafted.
Hitching on with the Chicago Bulls for the Las Vegas Summer League, Samuels managed to impress some coaches – apparently at least one from Northeastern Ohio – due to his length and back-to-the-basket offense. Samuels lead the Bulls in scoring twice in the five-game span, putting in 19 during their matchup with the Cavs; also known as the “Pooh Jeter game.”
In an interview with NBATV, Bulls newly hired head coach Tom Thibodeau had nothing but high remarks for Samuels.
“He knows how to carve out his space in there,” said Thibodeau. “He’s a multiple-effort guy that’s played extremely well out here.”
Potentially undersized for a big man, Samuels played both power forward and center for Rick Pitino. His draft capsule was understandably mixed given the high expectations for the New Jersey product coupled with he did not exactly meet the mark over his two seasons within the NCAA. For comparison purposes, it would not be far-fetched to consider Samuels a JJ Hickson with less athleticism but a considerably wider body. He averaged 15.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and managed to block over one shot per game despite only being 6’9″.
When facing high-profile rookie DeMarcus Cousins in the Summer League, Samuels put up one of his better performances with 17 points and seven rebounds to go with a handful of poster-like dunks on the new Sacramento Kings addition. On the defensive end, Samuels held Cousins to 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting for the game.
The downside to Samuels’ game reportedly comes from the fact that he does not venture outside of the paint very often. Though able to use his size in pick-and-roll situations, over 90 percent of Samuels’ half-court possessions occur near the basket. Despite these apparent limitations, Samuels feels that he could be used in an uptempo style offense due to the fact that he is a bit smaller than most of the player he would be facing at the NBA level.
“I like the NBA style more than the college game,” said Samuels following a recent Summer League game. “There’s more spacing for a big man like me that’s strong and physical. The defense can’t be in a certain position to wait for me and get the ball. There’s a lot of one-on-one coverage and I like that.”
“I like to run as a big man and try to be other big men down the court. I think my game will translate well.”
In a move that signals that the team is playing more for the future than marginal wins in 2010-11, the Cavaliers have reportedly inked Samuels to a two-year deal with only a portion of the first year being guaranteed. Given his high profile entering college, it would be a very big disappointment for Samuels to not be able to contribute at the next level.
He was anticipated to go anywhere from the late-first to deep-second round just weeks ago due to strong private workouts. His failure to latch on to a team in the Draft may have been just what the Cavaliers needed to get a young presence for the future. If it does not work out, the team has provided itself with financial flexibility.
“I know I had good workouts and I know the talent I have as a player,” said Samuels. “I definitely have to keep pushing and I want to be in the NBA. [Not being drafted] will not stop me.”
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)