On January 2, 2011, Christian Eyenga – the lone Congolese Cleveland Cavalier – made his NBA debut. A mere 556 days after being drafted in the first round of 2009, Eyenga drew the eyes of many Cavs fans through his entire 15 minutes on the floor.
Amassing four points and three rebounds on the night, Eyenga was a part of the Cleveland Cavalier bench which outscored Dallas’ reserves 43-19. The team also had a 52-38 advantage in points in the paint, two of which came on an Eyenga dunk that likely could have been executed flawlessly on a 12-foot rim.
Eyenga was assigned to the Erie Bayhawks on Nov. 18 and played in 15 contests. He averaged 12.3 points on .531 shooting, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 1.0 block in 26.0 minutes per game. While these numbers may be underwhelming given the level of competition, The 21-year-old Eyenga averaged 17.0 points on .537 shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 31.7 minutes over his final three games with the team.
His stint in Erie was solely to focus on defense, one that Cavs head coach Byron Scott insisted be similar to that of the one run by the Cavaliers. Scott said that each time he spoke with Christian during his stint in the NBDL, Eyenga stressed that he was working on defense – easily his biggest weakness at the professional level.
Though he appeared lost on defense at times, his play on Sunday evening earned some praise from Scott.
“I thought [Christian] did pretty well,” said Scott. “To be honest with you, I thought, Christian, Manny and Alonzo, our young guys, played with a lot of energy. They made some mistakes but it wasn’t because of lack of effort.”
Eyenga’s raw athleticism was on display through nearly the entire duration of his 15 minutes of work. His effort on rebounds enabled his 6-foot-5-inch frame to soar above several taller opponents. A blocked shot, though deemed goaltending by the officials, had shades of Atlanta’s Josh Smith as he sent the ball out of bounds from just above the rim.
Eyenga will forever be tied to the lasting memories of former Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry who selected Eyenga at the end of the first round despite having the opportunity to draft DeJuan Blair out of Pittsburgh. Health concerns and size issues forced Ferry to try to get Blair in the second round where he would subsequently be selected by the San Antonio Spurs, ironically where both individuals claim as their respective employers.
As the Cavaliers sit with a conference-worst record of 8-26, Byron Scott will be forced to turn the team over to his younger players. Testing the waters with young, athletic swingmen like Alonzo Gee and Christian Eyenga (the 284th all-time leading scorer in franchise history!) will be the only way that Scott can see what he has as a foundation while the front office looks to take the proper steps for successful rebuild. That said, expect a lot more of Eyenga in the coming games as Scott will continue to see just where his rookie’s energy and athleticism can take him.
“We’ll just keep working with those guys every day,” said Scott. “[We will] get them a little bit more comfortable with what we’re doing on both ends of the floor and I think all of those [young] guys are going to be pretty good.”