Cleanthony Early was getting impatient. The first round of the 2014 NBA Draft had just concluded, and his name wasn’t one of the first 30 called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Early had been projected as a late-first round talent, but with his name still on the board, he could only sit and wait.
Early had a very productive senior season at Wichita State, averaging 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds to make the Wooden All-American Team and help the Shockers pull off a perfect 34-0 regular season record. He played even better during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 27 points and seven rebounds while shooting 65.6 percent from the field. His 31-point outing against the Kentucky Wildcats turned heads around the league, even if it wasn’t enough to keep Wichita State’s season alive.
At the NBA Draft Combine, Early measured well at 6’7 with a 6’11 wingspan and he tested out as one of the most athletic players in the class. His 40-inch max vertical and 3.18 three-quarter sprint were impressive, and DraftExpress’ athletic testing composite score ranked him the third-best athlete in the class.
Yet, here was Early, still on the board as second-round picks started to come in. Damien Inglis to the Milwaukee Bucks with the 31st overall pick. K.J. McDaniels to the Philadelphia 76ers with the 32nd overall pick. Joe Harris to the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick.
Despite his success, it seemed that Early’s age had scared some teams. At 23 years old, he’s one of the oldest players in the class. In the draft, teams often choose young, high-upside players over older, experienced players, opting for phenoms with potential over veterans with successful resumes. This is how a player like Early, who seemed to fit the mold of a first-rounder, ends up slipping on draft night.
With each pick, Early’s frustration grew, but fortunately his long wait came to an end early in the second round.
“With the 34th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select Cleanthony Early from Wichita State University,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum announced to the cheers of Knicks fans.
Early, who was born and raised in the Bronx, was thrilled. As upsetting as it was for him to fall out of the first round, he feels like it all happened for a reason because it allowed him to return home to New York.
“I was excited, I was happy, especially for the fact that I get to stay home next to my mom and be a part of the Knicks organization all at once,” Early told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a dream come true, just be in this position. Getting to come back home is just everything. I couldn’t ask for more. It feels very surreal.”
Early at No. 34 is incredible value, and he may end up being the steal of this draft. After receiving little attention out of high school, playing two years in junior college and going overlooked at Wichita State, he already had an enormous chip on his shoulder. Now, after being passed over by every team, he’s definitely using it as motivation.
“At the end of the day, they made their decision, they made their choices, and they’re going to have to live with that, they’re going to have to stick with that,” Early said. “I’m going to have to live with that, I’m going to have to stick with that. But the only difference is, the way my heart is set up and the way I am, I’m going to use it as motivation. It fires me up. If I ever feel like I am being overlooked or I feel like I got something to prove, I’m willing to accept that challenge. The only thing I have to do is get in the gym and continue doing what I’ve been doing, honestly. I’m not going to get caught up in making crazy comments about the situation. It is what it is, it happened, get over it.
“It’s time to eat. I’m ready. I can’t wait to play any one of those guys [who went before me] and play any of those teams that passed on me when it would’ve been a good fit. It’s just going to be a little extra motivation, you know what I mean?”
Early had an interview with the Knicks at the NBA Draft Combine, and felt really good about it. Even though the team didn’t have a draft pick at the time, he started to sense that New York was somewhere he may land.
“I just had a gut feeling that I would end up in New York, and I just kept believing,” Early said. “When I had an interview with them, I thought I could end up there. How? I don’t know. I felt like there was a possibility, even though they didn’t have a pick. It wasn’t like, ‘Why am I having an interview if there’s no chance of me coming here?’ But the interview went really, really well. Going through the process, you think you might end up somewhere, but you never really know. I was just going to be happy with wherever I went. Then, once they acquired a pick, I was just like, ‘Alright man, this could be real.’”
While Early’s age is what caused him to be passed over on draft night, he feels it will actually help him on the Knicks since he’s NBA-ready and prepared to make an impact immediately.
“I definitely think I can contribute right away,” Early said. “I guess it’s like that Drake line, ‘I’m the rookie and the vet.’ I just got to take it for what it is and use it to my advantage. There’s younger guys, and they have a lot to learn and more years to learn, but when we’re talking about right here and right now, I’m going to be ready to play and make the most of my opportunity.”
Early grew up supporting the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers – idolizing Phil Jackson – so he can’t believe that he ended up being the Zen Master’s first draft pick.
“It means everything,” Early said. “It’s very humbling, but at the same time it’s very inspiring – that’s exactly what it’s doing for me. It’s keeping me humble and it’s keeping me inspired because he had players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Now, with him drafting me first, you have an expectation to live up to. And it’s not just what anyone else sets for you, it’s what you set for yourself and where you see yourself. If you have high goals, you’re going to work hard and Phil Jackson is the perfect teacher. People call him the Zen Master and a genius, and you get labels like those from having a great resume and being a great person and I think I could do great with those type of people because I’m willing to learn from as many people as possible. When you have a great teacher and someone who’s willing to listen and is as open to learning as I am, only positive can come out from this.
“I’m going to keep working on everything – ball-handling, reading screens, ball-screens, defending, communicating, bringing my energy, it’s pretty much everything. I’m always trying to work on everything. I’m getting up shots off the dribble, spot up shots and shots coming off screens, I’m not going to limit myself to what I’m trying to improve on. I get to learn from Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher and all those guys who know so many different ways to put the ball in the basket and how to share the basketball and how to free another guy open and how to get yourself free by just setting screens, moving, cutting to the basket. I want to learn as much as possible and I can’t wait to start.”
Early has already gotten to meet some of his teammates and he believes he’ll fit right in to the Knicks’ culture.
“I got to meet some of them and they seem like cool guys, good guys like [Iman] Shumpert, Tim Hardaway, J.R. [Smith] – those guys all seem pretty chill,” Early said. “As far as the offense, they’re new to it, just like I’m going to be new to it. They have stuff to learn, just like I got stuff to learn, but they’ve been playing together for a while. My thing, just with my energy and my openness, is to continue to learn and listen and communicate with everyone properly. I’ll do whatever I can to learn and contribute.
“We haven’t spoken specifically about my role on the team. I know that they see me as a high-character guy and a guy who’s talented and has the ability to play basketball. But I’ve got to learn a new offense, and that goes for everyone. As far as my role, I’ll be someone that’s going to come in and make an impact and play defense, defend, rebound, shoot the ball well, get to the basket, create shots for teammates, just pretty much be a basketball player. With the offense that we have now, we just have to learn and find the minutes pretty much.”
Fans in New York are thrilled to welcome Early to the team, because they realize that he can be a rare second-round player who emerges as a difference maker right away. Early appreciates the support he has been getting from Knicks fans.
“It’s been nothing but love, man,” Early said. “I love the Knicks fans. I love New York. I love all of our fans really, whether they’re in New York or not. Anyone who’s down to support me or anything that I’m doing or organization that I’m in, I think that’s great. I give that energy right back and I’ve got nothing but love for those people that believe in me.”
Early can’t wait for the season to start so he can pull on his Knicks jersey for the first time and make his NBA debut. Entering next season, he believes that New York has the pieces to be very competitive in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we can be really, really good,” Early said. “That’s me, I’m very optimistic and I believe everyone here works hard, and they want to win and if you have that then we can be really, really good. Especially with a good coach and good players. We have a great president, a really good coach and good players, so the potential is there. We just got to all buy in and play for each other and do what we need to do, which I believe we’re going to do.It’s real early to tell, but I believe the sky is the limit for us.”
The sky is certainly the limit for Early, and he’s ready to prove it.
PODCAST: Recapping Summer League Stars
Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss the best of Las Vegas Summer League, including everything from Lonzo Ball to Dennis Smith, Jr.
Deyonta Davis Looks to Crack the Rotation
Deyonta Davis could be in position to break out in his second year, writes David Yapkowitz.
The Memphis Grizzlies have already lost Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to free agency, and Tony Allen might be on the way out, but there may be enough talent left on the roster to remain competitive in an even stronger Western Conference. One player on the team who looks to be a key part of the Grizzlies potential success is Deyonta Davis.
Now entering his second year out of Michigan State, Davis played sparingly as a rookie for a veteran team with playoff aspirations. He appeared in only 36 games while averaging 6.6 minutes per game, 1.6 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks. Davis is hoping to take what he’s learned from the Grizzlies vets and apply that on the court next season.
“I learned a lot more than I did when I first started playing with Memphis,” Davis told reporters at the Las Vegas Summer League. “Just learning from Marc Gasol, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, they just showed me the way to play.”
Prior to the 2016 NBA Draft, multiple mock drafts had Davis being selected in the first round and he was viewed as being first round talent. He ended slipping to the second round, where he was drafted with the 31st overall pick by the Boston Celtics before being acquired by the Grizzlies in a draft night trade.
Although he may have felt disappointment at the time, he’s used it as an opportunity to get better and showcase his game.
“I wouldn’t call it a disappointment, I just got to show people what I’m made of,” Davis said. “Now I’m just trying to move forward and just play my game.”
Gasol is penciled in as the team’s starting center, with Brandan Wright as his backup. That still leaves a hole at the power forward spot. With Randolph gone to the Sacramento Kings, and the status of restricted free agent JaMychal Green still up in the air, there may be minutes available in the Grizzlies frontcourt.
Davis is more of a center and most minutes he receives will probably be at the five, but he did learn a thing or two from Randolph in terms of playing in the post.
“The way he moves his body in the post, the second effort that he be putting in, all-around game pretty much,” Davis said.
In addition to learning from the Grizzlies veterans, former NBA and NCAA head coach Larry Brown has been in attendance helping the team’s young guys in Las Vegas. Davis was a young child during Brown’s days as head coach of the Detroit Pistons and didn’t really pay much attention to basketball at that point.
But now that he’s able to understand Brown’s importance to the game, he’s welcomed the tutelage from the Hall of Fame coach.
“Now just knowing who he is and looking up on him, and seeing what he was doing in his career, it’s helpful,” Davis said. “They’re really just telling me if it’s a screen, stay up on it, or keep the ball in the post more, or just keep snagging rebounds.”
Through four games in Las Vegas so far, Davis has put up 6.5 points per game on 57.1 percent shooting from the field, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 1 steal in 24.3 minutes of play. In his most recent outing against the Phoenix Suns, he shot 7-for-8 from the field, which included a few mid-range jump shots.
Developing more of an outside jumper is something that might get him more minutes at power forward. His main competition for minutes at that spot figure to be third-year forward Jarell Martin and rookie Ivan Rabb. Martin has not been very impressive in summer league to this point and Rabb has missed the entire summer with an ankle sprain. Davis has been without question the Grizzlies’ most impressive big man this summer.
“I’m just giving Memphis what I got,” Davis said. “Same thing you see during the season. I’m not just gonna space out parts of my game, I’m just trying to give all of it.”
Davis feels like his shot is coming, and the time he spent riding the bench last season is all worth it.
“Just patience, that’s all it is,” Davis said. “Just being smart about playing basketball.”
If the Grizzlies hope to keep pace in the West, Davis is one guy that will help make sure of that.
Forbes Simplifying The Game And Having Fun
Hard work and dedication has led to huge success this summer for Bryn Forbes. Spencer Davies writes.
As the NBA Summer League enters the third round of tournament play in Las Vegas, the San Antonio Spurs hold the eighth overall seed with a 3-1 record. With most eyes focused on Dejounte Murray, as well as rookies Derrick White and Jaron Blossomgame, a different name has been the talk of the town.
Bryn Forbes, a second-year guard who went undrafted one year ago out of Michigan State, is making waves as his skills continue to develop.
Coming out of Salt Lake City as the Utah Summer League’s leading scorer, the 23-year-old has been one of the most consistent offensive threats in July. Averaging 29.3 points per game as the league leader in Las Vegas, has Forbes exceeded his own expectations?
“In some ways, yeah,” Forbes told reporters on Wednesday night. “I just didn’t really know what to expect from myself, but I knew I put in a lot of work, so I expected good things. But I didn’t know how our team was going to be.
“I knew our coaching staff pretty well and what they had been telling me for all summer, the things I need to do out here, but I think once I got to play with the team a little bit I was like, ‘Okay.’ I started to feel it a little more. I love playing with these guys.”
Having only played in 36 games in his rookie year, Forbes has “worked his ass off” over a busy summer to improve his game and earn some more minutes. Predominantly a pure scorer, the 6-foot-3 guard has made it a priority to add more to his repertoire.
“I think that’s the weight room,” Forbes said of his newfound versatility. ”Ball handling. Everything I put in this summer. Conditioning. Everything I put in, I think it’s starting to be able to control it more. Control the things I’m doing more than I was able to years past.”
Being a part of a perennial winning organization such as San Antonio doesn’t hurt his case, either, and Forbes is a big believer that he’s headed down the best path possible.
“I trust our staff and our coaches with my life, so it’s like, whatever they think the right thing is to do, I’mma do exactly that,” he said.
Will Hardy, an assistant alongside Gregg Popovich, is the head coach of the Spurs summer league team. Through seven games between Utah and Las Vegas, he’s already seen Forbes’ confidence growing with each night.
“He’s a very skilled offensive player,” Hardy said. “I’ve said before, it’s not just catch and shoot. He’s got a nice game off the bounce. He’s really good off the ball. He’s tough to guard because he can get in a lot of different ways.
“I think our big guys have done a really nice job of screening for him and getting him free. When he gets it going, everybody’s looking for him.”
Simplifying the game helps a ton when you’re trying to find a flow. When asked about why things have slowed down for him, Forbes agreed with his coach.
“My teammates are doing great too—on the defensive end, on the offensive end, setting picks, rebounding,” he said. “Everything they’re doing is making everything for me a lot easier.”
Three times, once in Utah and twice this past week in Las Vegas, Forbes has eclipsed the 30-point mark. This includes back-to-back games with 35 to lead the Spurs to victory in each. He’s averaged four assists and a little over three rebounds to go along with 1.3 steals per game as well.
As San Antonio continues to move on in the tournament, he doesn’t see much of that changing for him.
“I don’t think there’s a fall-off,” Forbes said. “This is all of the work I’ve been putting in and I think when you put a lot of work in, you get out of it what you get out of it. You get what you give to the game.”
Hardy doesn’t see any signs of slowing down, either.
“He’s continued to stay aggressive and he’s in a good rhythm right now,” he said. “His mindset’s really good on that end.”
Forbes’ dedication off the floor has definitely played a factor in his success, but nothing can substitute being on the hardwood like live action. It’s something he missed dearly before summer league started up, and now he’s got the chance to showcase his talents in front of everybody.
“It was fun just being back out here,” Forbes said. “I hadn’t got to play all summer, five-on-five or anything like that, not even one-on-one. It was just like workouts and lifting and all different types of stuff. It’s just fun to be back out playing.”
It’s been a pleasure to watch, Bryn.