Former Cavalier assistant coach Chris Jent may no longer be employed by the Cleveland NBA franchise, but this has not stopped him from helping improve the shot of players who don the Wine and Gold.
Following in the footsteps of forwards LeBron James and JJ Hickson, 22-year-old power forward Samardo Samuels has reportedly spent time with Jent during the impasse-ridden offseason, hoping to improve his game away from the basket. Per The Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer, Samuels has been working on his game for the last several months, ranging from private workouts to Impact League basketball out in Las Vegas, teaming up with the likes of New York Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups.
Within the interview with Boyer, Samuels spoke highly of being able to play alongside guys who know how to win basketball games - “Everybody can dunk these days,” the 265-pound bruising big man said, “but you remember wins.” And while the fun and winning and high-level intramural basketball is all well and good, it is his work with Jent that could help transition Samuels from a player who contributed to a 19-win team to one who could help be a key contributor to an NBA team beyond his early-20s.
Of Samuels’ 6.5 shot attempts per game in 2010, the rookie power forward converted at a woeful rate of 45.6 percent. He would seemingly start games off with a flurry of dunks and physical post moves before defenses would force him beyond the block where the bottom would subsequently fall out brick by brick. At the rim in 2010, Samuels was powerful and effective, hitting 61.1 percent of his field goal attempts, half of which were the product of assists. Beyond three feet, Samuels’ field goal percentage plummeted to 28.1 percent, making a middle-aged Shaquille O’Neal look like Ray Allen.
It was working with Jent which turned Hickson into a bit more than a one-trick, highly athletic pony, improving his range and thus the space underneith the basket to help implement Byron Scott’s pass-friendly offense. The recently-traded power forward saw his field goal percentage between 10-and-15 feet improve from 17.1 percent in 2010 to 30.6 percent, a mark that bettered shooting guard Anthony Parker. Between 16-and-23 feet from the hoop, Hickson improved his conversion rate from 27 percent to 33 percent; Daniel Gibson shot 39 percent from the same range.
Alas, if there is an NBA season to be had, Samuels will undoubtedly share time in the frontcourt with Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao and rookie Tristan Thompson. Given the lack of offensive pedigree coming from the latter two players, the team could be counting on the Jamaican big man with the best back-to-the-basket footwork on the team to also improve his play away from the hoop. Entering the final season of Jamison’s contract with the team, Samuels certainly has the potential to stick with the Wine and Gold long term. While going overseas could potentially help improve his play, his willingness to put countless hours in the gym while stateside should do just fine.
Samuels is certainly surrounding himself with the right people. Execution, however, is the larger piece of the pie.