CLEVELAND -- If youre looking for an X-factor on the Cavaliers this season, a guy who could emerge out of nowhere and become a vital player on a potential playoff team, you may want to check out Samardo Samuels.
At least, thats been the book on Samuels since the summer.
He showed up for NBA summer play in Las Vegas looking like a million bucks. He was slim, trim and full of muscle. On the court, he forced nothing, staying patient and focused, playing within himself and cutting way down on the mental errors.
These are all new notions when youre talking about Samuels.
He spent his first two seasons, both with the Cavs, riding an up-and-down (usually down) wave of inconsistency. He looked out of shape. He rarely passed out of double-teams or at all.
The talent was there, no doubt. But everyone wondered whether Samuels would ever get it.
Today, while still early in the preseason, it appears Samuels has a pretty good grasp of the pro game. Hes figured out a way to stay determined and active without giving the perception that perhaps hes trying a bit too hard.
He sports six-pack abs. Yet he doesnt seem to have lost any strength -- the one real thing he had going for him in years Nos. 1 and 2.
My first two years, it took me a while to learn everything, Samuels said after the Cavs 91-85 preseason-opening win over Montepaschi Siena at Quicken Loans Arena on Monday.
This year, I dont think I have room to mess up. Coach (Byron) Scott and I had a serious talk at the end of last season. I just try to listen and try to lock in, whether its practice or games.
Samuels is 6-foot-9 and around 245 pounds. Thats down from the 260 pounds he weighed in last year. And that was a conservative number.
He also says his body-fat is down to 6.5 percent. That alone is an extreme makeover.
More impressive, however, is how Samuels has looked on the floor. He says hes more confident, more intelligent, more willing to do whatever it takes to become a relevant contributor.
Monday, he was perhaps the Cavs MVP, scoring 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting off the bench. He also grabbed seven rebounds. A few of his made baskets were from outside of 10 feet and he looked good doing it.
Samuels is the former USA Today High School Player of the Year. He spent two seasons at Louisville before declaring for the NBA draft. No one took the bait.
Eventually, he wound up with the Cavs his rookie season. He looked like a guy with decent skills, but a guy who probably wasnt draft-worthy. He was, in NBA dialect, a project.
That appears to have changed.
He really listened what we had to say as far as what he had to do, Scott said. He did all those things this summer, and I think its all paying off right now. Hes seeing the benefits of listening and really applying some of those things we talked about when the season was over.
Samuels spent part of his off-season training with former Cavs forward Antawn Jamison (now with the Lakers). Jamison pushed Samuels to keep believing in himself, to gain some confidence in his jump shot.
Like Ive been saying, working with Antawn Jamison really helped, Samuels said. Thats his game. Having the same type of game, taking guys off the dribble its very important for me to add that to my game if I want to be successful.
Samuels also benefited from a motivational speaker who visited the Cavs earlier in the week.
The things he said kind of opened my eyes even more, Samuels said. Knowing that theres a lot of guys who want to be in my position every time I go out there, whether its five minutes or two minutes, I just have to give it my all. Every game I play from now on, I want to have that same attitude.
Scott has been hard on Samuels in the past, and just because Samuels has improved, its not likely to change. Its just that now, the teacher can trust the student.
I think tonight was just one of those games where, it was gonna happen, because hes been playing so well all throughout training camp, Scott said. Hes been playing just like this. Im very happy for him, because hes a terrific young man.
Its pretty clear Samuels is grateful for Scotts willingness to stick with him as well.
At this point in my career, hes been giving me so much, Samuels said. Hes been giving, giving, giving. Now its time to give back. Its the least I can do.
Rookie guard Dion Waiters scored 11 points in just more than 15 minutes, including a couple of late drives and free throws to help seal the win. I think his debut was successful, Scott said.
Meanwhile, rookie center Tyler Zeller scored seven points and tied Samuels with a bench-high seven boards. I thought both of those guys (Waiters and Zeller), when they first got in, were a little nervous, Scott said. Thats understandable. But I thought both of them calmed down and at the end of the day, had pretty good games.
For a complete analysis of Mondays game, visit my blog.
The Cavs return to preseason action Tuesday at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. Tip-off is 7 p.m. The game will be televised by FOX Sports Ohio, with Fred McLeod on play-by-play and Austin Carr providing color commentary.
Kyrie Irving scored 10 points and passed for three assists in three quarters, but made just one (of seven) field goals. Tristan Thompson scored 12 points, while C.J Miles started at shooting guard and scored 10. Also, backup point guard Donald Sloan scored 13 and did a nice job of running the offense.
Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO