I caught up with Cleanthony Early while he was in baggage claim at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, NY. As I was exiting I noticed the long, slender forward was standing up leaning against a pillar waiting for his luggage. He appeared to be by himself, no crowd, no one asking for autographs, it almost looked as though he was just a regular guy. That is when I approached him, am humbly said, “Early?” He looked up as if how on earth could this guy recognize who he was amongst the other passengers. I said again, “Early? Is that you?” His surprised expression turned to one with satisfaction and humbleness. He replied, “Yea whats going on?” I responded, “Hey man, I like your game. Don’t get used to this, not being by yourself, not being asked for autographs, because you’re going to be a STAR!” He replied “I appreciate that, real rap”.
While most people caught onto Early late in the year during the NCAA tournament, I on the contrary noticed Early during Wichita State’s previous tournament run during the 2012-2013 season. He was a headache for Louisville scoring Heading into this past season, is where I really began to notice the similarities between his game and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. If you know the game, then it is easy to see how well each of the previous 1st team MWC players compare to each other. They both shoot effectively from the wing position, they both have above average ball handling skills, and they both are active on the boards. Now after Kawhi’s NBA finals, he has certainly elevated his game to the next level and is a much more overall polished player than Early. But Early is not far behind, and based on his journey and work ethic, I expect Early to make an immediate impact just as Leonard did for San Antonio.
If you don’t want to go with the eye test, and need something more substantial than take a look at their stats side by side the year prior to entering the draft (see below).
Depending on the club that drafts Early will determine his early success, as we have seen in the past some organizations do not have the same developmental programs as other teams. Many mock drafts have Cleanthony going to Miami late in the 1st round. This would all but cement the off the bench scoring that Miami needs to make another trip to the finals (assuming everyone returns). Not only would he provide an immediate scoring threat off the bench but, possibly be in contention for Rookie of the Year as long as Spoelstra gives him even Ray Allen-type minutes. Welcome to the NBA Cleanthony.
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