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Making sense of the Cavs’ Dylan Windler situation

Dylan Windler, Cavs, Charge

A little over two and a half years ago, on the night of the 2020 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers introduced a four-man rookie class. Darius Garland taken at #5, Dylan Windler at #26, Kevin Porter Jr at #30, and the undrafted Dean Wade. This group of young Cavs is fun to look back at. After a rough start, Garland is quickly becoming one of the best and most exciting up-and-comers in the league. Wade has become a dependable role-player. KPJ suffered a fallout in Cleveland, but remains an intriguing, dynamic enigma.

This article isn’t about them, though. It’s about Dylan Windler. Coming out of Belmont, the 4-year senior has been plagued by injuries to start his career, keeping him from playing at all in his first season after being drafted. They’ve followed him around his whole NBA career, which is particularly absurd, because he had zero injury concerns when drafted.

Despite almost going with Keldon Johnson at pick 26, the Cavs committed to Windler. They also picked up his team option for next year. The organization certainly isn’t done with him. When healthy, he offers a skillset that makes plenty of sense for this team. It’s not hard to envision him thriving in an NBA role. It just hasn’t happened. Why is that?

Any form of consistency has been absent for Dylan Windler

The injuries were mentioned above, but even when healthy, the 6’6″ swingman hasn’t found a solidified role in the team’s rotation. Not long after being drafted, it seemed evident that he was on track to replace Cedi Osman as the Cavs’ starting Small Forward. That obviously didn’t happen.

Windler obviously provides values at an NBA level, but despite being twenty-five already, he’s yet to seem all that comfortable in the wine & gold. Every good game seems to be followed by a bad one. Recently,  he’s been sent down to the Cavs’ G-League affiliate, the Cleveland Charge, in order to get him some more consistent minutes, but his performance over there has been off and on as well.

Despite the Cavaliers going through a little bit of an injury crisis, those have primarily only opened up backcourt minutes. The team is desperate for ball-handlers, which isn’t something DW provides. He’s an off-ball wing. That’s an area of the roster that the Cavs don’t really have elite talent at, but they are relatively deep there. Lauri Markkanen, Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Dean Wade, and Lamar Stevens all reside above Dylan on the depth chart.

Oftentimes guys whose games are off-ball oriented and jump shot reliant can go through extended hot and cold streaks. Confidence and getting into a rhythm is critical for them. Windler hasn’t been afforded that chance.

His skillset is valuable, but replaceable

Every team in the NBA seems to want more wings. 3&D wings have been particularly popular. That’s what Windler is, but he’s also not more than that. He’s a phenomenal off-ball mover and cutter with a lethal jumper; however, he’s been hesitant to let it fly, which is essential as a floor-spacer in the NBA. What makes Kevin Love, Cedi Osman, and Lauri Markkanen so valuable as shooters for the Cavs, is that they not only are great shooters, but they launch from range with zero hesitation. It makes things just that much more difficult for opposing defenses.

Once you get defenders closing out on you harder, then it becomes easier to attack off-the-catch and get inside. Windler can do that and he’ll make the right passing reads with the ball in his hands. He’s limited, though. He’s not a guy that can self-create, he needs advantages to be created for him.

Defensively, he’s had plenty of good moments. He’s not terrific one-on-one due to some physical limitations, but in a team aspect he’s always been solid. However, it’s been an adjustment for him getting used to the speed and athleticism of the NBA. For a guy who relies on quick thinking and positioning to make a defensive impact. he’s had more lapses than you would expect. Those will likely dissipate with experience, though.

Dylan Windler is worth keeping around, but…

You don’t have to use much imagination to see the baseline of a good NBA player in the form of Dylan Windler. He’s a deserving long-term piece for the Cavs in the hope that he’s able to put the pieces together, but there’s not a particularly high ceiling here. As a floor-spacer/release valve and team defender, he could even be an effective starter, such as what Dean Wade has been for Cleveland this year.

He could just as easily be a 12th man depth option for a good team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every player that lasts in a rebuild needs to be a standout, flashy guy. Every team needs their role-players. Dylan Windler could be one of those for the Cavs. Patience is key with him. The reward may not be stunning, but it may just be worth the wait.

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