Oakland's Felder stakes his claim in NBA circles

Jason Lloyd
Akron Beacon Journal

Las Vegas — He isn’t big on gambling. That’s one of the first things Kay Felder says.

He just so happened to be here for his 21st birthday a few months ago to participate in the Vegas 16 Tournament, so Felder stopped by a roulette table at Mandalay Bay and sat down for a few minutes.

It was his first and only time at a casino table. Perhaps it’s fitting he picked one of the games with the worst odds in the house and managed to win a few dollars anyway. The odds have been against him for a while now simply because of his stature.

“I hate gambling,” Felder said. “I don’t have the patience for it and I hate losing my money.”

He might not like it, but Felder has proven pretty good at gambling on himself. His father tells him every year to write down five goals for the new year, so before the start of his sophomore season Felder wrote that he wanted to play in the NBA after his junior year. Even at 5-foot-9, he made it.

Felder left Oakland University with one year of eligibility remaining after he led the nation with 9.3 assists and was the only player in the country to rank in the top five in assists and scoring (fourth, 24.4 points).

Yet his size is why he fell to 54th overall in last month’s NBA draft. The Cavaliers began the night without a pick, but paid a whopping $2.4 million for one six slots from the end of the draft. A week later, they lost Matthew Dellavedova to the Bucks in free agency.

Now they’re hoping they’ve drafted another Dellavedova-type in Felder, who will need seasoning, but has shown flashes during his first taste of the NBA.

“He’s been one of the more impressive point guards in this Summer League,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Down the road, he’ll be a great player.”

Dellavedova went undrafted three years ago before the Cavaliers scooped him up primarily because of his grittiness and toughness. Now they see a number of the same characteristics in Felder, who averaged 14.3 points and 3.8 assists his first four Summer League games. The Cavaliers see the same fire in Felder that Dellavedova displayed, but the guard he draws the most comparisons to is undersized Celtics star Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-9 Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 draft — six spots ahead of where Felder was selected — the same year Kyrie Irving went first overall. He immediately made an impact as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings and ultimately signed a four-year, $27 million deal before being traded.

Felder embraces those comparisons, although Thomas is viewed as the better shooter, while Felder is the superior defender. However, it will be difficult for Lue to switch everything on pick-and-rolls defensively when Felder is on the floor because of his size, so adjustments will have to be made.

“I’m taking my height and rolling with it because I can’t change it,” Felder said. “It was God-given. He gave me this height for a reason. I feel like I play like I’m 6-2 or 6-3.”

The price the Cavaliers paid to draft Felder gives him a strong advantage to make the opening night roster, but his playing time could be limited. Both Thomas and Dellavedova went to young, rebuilding teams out of college and were able to play immediately.

The Cavaliers still have Mo Williams ahead of him and can use LeBron James as the backup to Irving, meaning Felder could find the bulk of his minutes this season in the Development League. But Dellavedova and Thomas have already proven teams can find valuable pieces at the end of the draft or even after the draft. The Cavaliers are hoping Felder is next on that list.

“Wherever you get picked, it doesn’t matter. You see lottery guys overseas now,” Felder said. “It’s all about what I do now and moving forward.”