Scott: Eyenga a Top 10 Athlete in NBA

Searching for positives in a season rife with inadequacy, the Cavaliers coaching staff continues to point at rookie swingman Christian Eyenga. 

Though his numbers will not garner him All-Star consideration like fellow rookie Blake Griffin, the 21-year-old native of The Congo continues to impress his coaching staff with persistent progress, seemingly boundless potential and willingness to embrace all facets of the game.  But most of all, Byron Scott and company remain in relative awe about Eyenga’s athleticism, placing him among the best in all of the NBA.

“If you had to pick out a top ten,” said Scott during Thurday afternoon’s practice, “[Christian] would probably be in there.

“He’s got a lot to learn, but the potential for him is pretty much unlimited. He can be one of the most dynamic athletes in the game.

Griffin, Gerald Wallace, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James… Eyenga would be placed within some highly revered company.

When asked what he liked about Eyegna’s game, Scott told the media that it would be quicker if he mentioned the things in which the rookie needed improvement.  Since arriving in Cleveland on January 2, 2011, Eyenga has not only played more minutes than anyone anticipated, but he has shown flashes of why Danny Ferry shocked the majority of fans when selecting him in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft.

“I love his athleticism, obviously,” said Scott.  “The kid,  he’s got three-point range, he can put it on the floor, he’s fearless, can get to the basket.  The only negative is his inexperience and lack of knowledge of the game, and he’s getting some valuable lessons right now.

Last season, when Eyenga was spending time in Spain playing with DKV Joventut, then-assistant general manager Lance Blanks told WFNY that the Cavaliers considered the player to be among the top ten percentof all athletes in the league.  Fuzzy math would dictate Blanks’ range being a big wider than that of Coach Scott, but the latter based his estimation after getting to see the 6-foot-5-inch swingman play.

Statistics will not do Eyenga many favors at this stage of his career due to the small sample size and relative inconsistency from game to game.  If one was to point out any rays of relative hope, the rookie has shown ability to get to the rim (48 percent of his field goal attempts are from inside of 10 feet) as well as hit the three-pointer.  The frustrating stage comes when someone of his athleticism settles for jump shots or does not aggressively take the ball to the rim while hoping for a foul. 

Eyenga enters Friday’s game against the Denver Nuggets coming off of one of his most successful games as a Cavalier where he led the team with 15 points in 27 minutes against the Boston Celtics, but the coaching staff still reiterated the importance of Eyenga using his athleticism to his advantage and being aggressive on the offensive end.

“[Christian] is putting in a lot of work, you have to give him a lot of credit for some of the steps he’s made,” said Scott.  “He’s really starting to pick up things – on both ends of the floor – a lot quicker than expected.  I didn’t expect him to play this much, but watching him play, he makes mistakes.  But the one thing about him, he knows when he makes mistakes and he’s doing his best to correct them.”

(AP Photo/Steve Campbell)

  • Lyon

    He’s like Carlos Santana to me. When he’s in the game I don’t change it, just like when Santana came to bat. Really wish he’d drive with purpose like Scott asks him to.

    He may not be an All Star one day, but he gives me a reason to watch this mess of a team.

  • Chucky Brown

    Eyenga, you sir, are my silver lining

  • OmegaKing

    I think that Cleveland fans in general have a soft spot for guys that aren’t as good, or are underestimated, who bust their butts and try to get better.

  • MattyFos

    @Omega, I think fans for every team like those kind of grinders… It’s just Cleveland teams are FULL of players like that.

  • B-bo

    Fans romanticizing Christian Eyenga. This is as good an indication as any of just how far this team has fallen.

  • Mike

    Just to temper the enthusiasm, Eyenga is shooting 7-for-17 (41%) in the paint over the four games since his return from injury, and 34% shooting overall in that stretch. He also has just 8 free throw attempts in 9 games.

  • ryan

    The title made me think you were just proclaiming that yourself hah. Either way, I agree with you B-bo.

  • Denny

    I’ve always thought that the world needs more Eyenga/Santana fanfic.

  • OmegaKing

    @ MattyFos – I would agree with you. But honestly, I think that mid-and small-market teams appreciate them more.

    Being in the NYC area may jade me a little bit, but NY fans around here don’t want anything but superstars. They would look at Eyenga and complain that he’s on the roster – they don’t want improvement. They want wins – NOW. They want superstars. NOW. And I think that’s the attitude of larger-market teams and their fans.

  • b

    Draft Jimmer!

  • Shamrock

    If and that’s a gigantic sized 72 font size if, Eyenga is a top 10 athlete in the NBA then he cannot be called a grinder. He’s not in the top 10. He has great leaping ability but to say he’s a top 10 athlete in the NBA is a long reach. No wonder the disappointment is so great people set themselves up for it with expectations as high as the sky.

  • DocZeus

    I don’t know you don’t get many better pure athletes better than Eyenga. That doesn’t mean he will be a good pro.

  • mgbode

    @Shamrock – he might be top10 in terms of athleticism. he’s certainly close in terms of leaping ability, change-of-direction, speed.

    the problem is the NBA’s best athletes are not always it’s best players. guys like Harold Minor (remember baby jordan) or to keep it current Anthony Randolph and Ty Thomas. Athleticism only makes up for so many mistakes.