Tyler Cavanaugh began the 2017-18 season as one of the more anonymous players at the Las Vegas Summer League but it did not take him long to seemingly become a favorite of the Atlanta Hawks coaching staff. He’s a power forward that can make perimeters shots and knows what he is supposed to do at all times on both ends of the court. He’s not the most athletically gifted player but he proved to be stronger than anticipated and he uses his IQ to consistently give the team just a little more than might be expected.
The young big man agreed to a two-way contract to begin the season but, when the Hawks centers (literally all of the them) sustained injuries early in the season, the result was that the organization quickly worked through the allotted 45 days that Cavanaugh was allowed to spend with the parent club.
It would be hard to identify a player that made more of a handful of weeks with an NBA team and a rotation spot available. Cavanaugh never looked mentally overwhelmed by any match-up, even when going up against all-NBA big men. The first game he played firmly in the rotation was against perhaps the best big man combo in the league in the form DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans. He got pushed around at times in the game, but Cavanaugh put up 16 points on just 7 shooting possessions and earned the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer.
He then agreed to an NBA contract including a team option for next season. $450,000 of the contract value guarantees if he is still on the roster on May 15, which happens to be the day of the NBA draft lottery. The outcome of the uncertainty surrounding whether Budenholzer will coach the team next season may have an impact on whether Cavanaugh gets that early guarantee; the offensive scheme the team has run during Budenholzer’s tenure is a perfect fit for the young power forward that went undrafted out of George Washington.
In 39 games of NBA play, Cavanaugh produced 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. He proved to be one of the most secure players in the league at his position. Only two players had a lower turnover ratio among all power forwards in the league.
Offensively, he is better playing in space than he is in the paint, as Cavanaugh struggles to finish shots at the rim. He’s not really undersized at the position but he lacks the explosiveness and craft to be a threat attacking the rim.
Questions still exist as to whether he can develop into being a legitimate NBA rotation player, but he would need to be paired with the right partner for his skill set to be used optimally.
Cavanaugh is a good fit offensively with Hawks rookie standout John Collins, as he can space the floor with his shooting skills while Collins operates near the rim. Defensively, however, the duo would need a lot of help from the wings to rebound the ball effectively. Both rookie big men are below average on the defensive boards at this point, at least according to metrics.
Cavanuagh produced 1.13 points per possessions on spot up opportunities which ranks his in the 82nd percentile in the league. His basketball IQ can also be seen in when and how he cuts to the basket. He scored 1.5 point per possessions on cuts.
Cavanaugh does not have a ton of space to work with on this play but the timing of his cut creates just enough of a passing lane for Kent Bazemore to get the ball to him.
His difficulty finishing at the rim in tight space can be seen on this play. He does not have the ability to leap clear of the defenders.
The trust that the Hawks’ coaching staff had in Cavanaugh can be seen on this play. The Hawks use a timeout with just a few seconds left in the first half to set up a sideline out of bounds play (SLOB). Cavanaugh and Marco Belinelli stunt screen action and as designed they get the defenders to overplay the would-be screen and a path opens up for the rookie to get to the backboard for the uncontested layup.
This play versus Portland is the first of the second quarter so this is also a designed ATO (after timeout) for Cavanaugh. Collins threatens the rim while Cavanaugh breaks for the three point line. Belinelli delivers the pass that sets up the uncontested three point attempt.
The offensive fit of Cavanaugh and Collins can be clearly seen on this possession.
Cavanaugh has demonstrated he is a good decision maker in the pick and roll action. On this play, he demonstrates zero hesitation moving the ball to the open Bazemore in the opposite corner for the uncontested three point attempt.
The young Hawks could bring an impressive summer league team to Utah and Las Vegas. The Hawks will likely have to commit to guaranteeing roughly one-third of his contract for the 2018-19 season if Cavanaugh is to be part of those teams and that is an open question as the summer approaches.