On Feb. 22, the Atlanta Hawks signed young wing Antonius Cleveland to a 10-day contract. The move came as somewhat of a surprise to some as he was in the process of rehabbing from a left ankle injury he suffered earlier in the season while playing for the Dallas Mavericks.
A couple of days after he was signed by Atlanta, the AJC’s Michael Cunningham caught up with Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk to discuss the move.
“We view him as a long-term play,” Schlenk said. “He’s got some upside. He’s got some work to do this summer.”
Atlanta later signed Cleveland to a second 10-day contract before reaching a multi-year agreement with him on March 14.
The 6-foot-6 wing displays promising upside on defense due to his length and athleticism with some potential on the offensive end as well, as he scored over 20 points per 40 minutes in his senior season at Southeastern Missouri State before going undrafted in 2017.
Going into the draft, Cleveland was thought of as prototypical shooting guard considering his combination of size, scoring ability, and explosiveness. He was a good rebounder for his position at the collegiate level, something that could translate into his NBA career. At the very least, his combination of timing and explosiveness produces some highlights:
His jump shot (especially from beyond the three-point arc) improved drastically throughout his college career and it’s entirely possible he improves even more with more repetition at the next level. Cleveland shot 38.4 percent from three-point range in his final collegiate season. He also showed he has the ability to get to the free throw line during his college career as he averaged 5.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes.
There is certainly some promise that he could be a serviceable 3-and-D guy in the league one day considering he also averaged 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game as a senior, hinting that he’s an active defender with the potential to be a solid wing stopper in the future. Watch below how he stays with Kawhi Leonard in isolation during his time in Dallas:
In addition to his 3-and-D potential, Cleveland has a bit of a mid-range game and can work in pick-and-roll to get to his spots:
Southeast Missouri State scored 172 points on 200 pick-and-rolls run by Cleveland his senior year, putting him just above average in the country in 2016-17. While not overwhelming, if he’s able to be a mildly effective secondary creator, that would certainly boost his chances of sticking in the NBA.
The reality is that we still don’t know a whole lot about Cleveland and his NBA potential quite yet. He only took 21 shots from the field in the 17 NBA games he appeared in between the Hawks and Mavs this season, going 8-for-21 overall and 3-for-4 from deep. The sample size at the highest level is too small to make a strong judgement, but from what we have seen, it appears that he definitely has a chance to carve out a role for himself on the Hawks roster next year.
Our next chance to evaluate Cleveland should be in the NBA Summer League, and with the Hawks competing in Utah and Las Vegas this year, we should get an extended look at what he can do on the floor.
When prompted on summer league after the Hawks played the Heat on Apr. 4, Cleveland indicated that he’s “got to prove (himself) even more” and that he “definitely knows” he isn’t missing Summer League.
The Hawks will participate in the Las Vegas Summer League alongside all 30 teams in the NBA and that will run from July 6 and runs through July 17. Dates for Utah have yet to be announced but, in the past, it has been during the first week of July, allowing Atlanta to transition smoothly from one to the other.