Joakim Noah may not have approved, but today the Chicago Bulls are trying out Cleveland. First reported by Shams Charania, Chicago claimed the recently-waived Antonius Cleveland from Atlanta.
Antonius Cleveland went undrafted in 2017 before latching on with the Portland Trail Blazers for NBA Summer League. He then signed a training camp deal with the Golden State Warriors before getting waived and playing for their G League affiliate. The Mavericks then signed him to a two-way contract. He averaged 0.8 points in 13 NBA games with Dallas. Later that season, the Atlanta Hawks inked him to a pair of 10-day contracts before the franchise signed him to a multi-year contract in March. Though battling through an ankle injury, he had more success with the Hawks, averaging 3.3 points per game on 57.1 percent from the field in four contests. He then played for the Hawks Summer League squad earlier this month, but was in a roster crunch as the Hawks were facilitating the Carmelo Anthony trade from the Thunder this week.
Cleveland’s deal with the Hawks, which was fully claimed here, is signed for multiple years but it is non-guaranteed until January 10th. So it’s thus far from guaranteed that he’ll even make the opening night roster.
Perhaps the most interesting implication of this signing is whether Cleveland in conjunction with the Rawle Alkins and Antonio Blakeney signings signal the Bulls will move on from David Nwaba. The latter is a free agent and has garnered interest from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Do the Bulls see Alkins, Cleveland, and Blakeney as cheaper options than Nwaba, thus more appealing? It seems silly to load the depth chart with guys that play the same position as Nwaba if the franchise intended on keeping him around.
A four year starter at Southeast Missouri State University, the 6-foot-6-inch guard averaged 16 points per game as an upperclassman on efficient shooting (49.3 percent) while routinely filling up the box score with 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. He dramatically improved his 3-point shooting percentage his senior year (38.4 percent up from 21.1 and 17.4 percent his sophomore and junior seasons respectively), although he never shot a high volume from that range. He was a career 61.2 percent free-throw shooter in college which doesn’t indicate his shooting will translate to the NBA.
Like many of these fringe wing prospects, his NBA future will rest on his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. In a super small sample size for both, he knocked down three of the four 3-point field goals he attempted in the NBA, and 50 percent of his 3-point attempts in the G League.
Even though he’s been in the NBA/ G League ranks for only a season, he’s already 24 years old (will turn 25 in February), so he’s basically entering “middle age” as far as NBA players go. However, he was a late bloomer in high school (a growth spurt contributed to that) and improved every year at SEMO so there’s a track record of him getting better with time.
In NBA Summer League a few weeks ago, Cleveland showcased his athletic chops serving as a lob threat and creating fast break opportunities for himself via his pesky on-ball defense. He’s a max energy player that plays tough on defense and is explosive in space (65 percent of his shot attempts came at the rim in college), although he has trouble creating out of the pick-and-roll and gets to the basket mostly on straight line drives.
Where does he fit with the Bulls?
With the addition of Cleveland and Rawle Alkins (to a 2-way contract yesterday, we’ll have more on him soon), the Bulls now have 16 players on their roster out of the maximum 20 a franchise can have during the offseason. He’s a guy only the dorkiest of NBA nerds know of from a school that most people don’t know existed.
It’s tough to see a path towards minutes. At the two guard position, Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, Antonio Blakeney and even Alkins could/will be ahead of him on the depth chart. If he plays the three this could open up more minutes with only Jabari Parker and probably Chandler Hutchison ahead of him in the pecking order. But, this isn’t his natural position and there’d be questions about his ability to hold his own defensively , even as the Bulls may be skipping out on defense this season.
Then again...David Nwaba was a G League hero from a random college nobody had ever heard of either, before becoming probably the best non-Markkanen story on the Bulls last season. So we should hesitate to write this off as merely a waiver claim.