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.”