When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded guard Alec Burks at the February deadline, the return centered on Brandon Knight and his bad contract, as well as the Houston Rockets’ 2019 first-round pick, which ended up being 26th overall. But Houston also sent forward Marquese Chriss to Cleveland, a player who clearly had potential, but who had been unable to realize it over his first three seasons in the league.
Chriss got off to a good start in Cleveland, but by the end of the season, he had failed to build on that start, and again looked like the player who would never get it together in the NBA.
Drafted eighth overall in 2016 by the Phoenix Suns, Chriss was a project coming out of Washington. He was a supremely athletic 6’10” 240lbs, with the ability to be both a rim protector and a solid perimeter defender. He could rebound, finish inside, and shoot the three-pointer.
During his rookie season, he played in all 82 games, starting 75, and averaged 9.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.8 steals, and 0.9 blocks per contest. He earned a spot on the All-Rookie team, and his career was certainly trending upward.
But during his sophomore year, Chriss failed to develop. His offensive stats fell across the board, and after the season, Phoenix gave up on him, and traded him along with Brandon Knight to the Rockets for Ryan Anderson’s albatross of a contract. Chriss was basically given away.
But now, he had a chance to earn a rotational spot on a championship contender. Houston wasn’t a bad situation for him at all. Unfortunately, he failed to carve out a role for himself, as he was active for just 16 games, averaging 6.5 minutes and 2.1 shot attempts.
In his Cleveland debut against the Washington Wizards, Marquese Chriss poured in 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc, along with eight rebounds. Five nights later, he erupted for 23 points against the Brooklyn Nets, the second-highest scoring output of his career. Maybe all Chriss really needed was a fresh start and consistent playing time in order to be effective.
Unfortunately, he would reach 10 points only once more in 2018-2019, and finished the season averaging 5.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game, while shooting 38% from the field and 26% from beyond the arc. He had flashes of excellence in his 27 games with the Cavs, but like the rest of his career, nothing was consistent.
Chriss is still just 21 years old, and will play the entirety of next season at 22. His youth and potential is still something that will intrigue teams, and should interest the Cavs in keeping Chriss around. The problem is that Cleveland’s frontcourt is extremely crowded. Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, John Henson, and Ante Zizic all need significant minutes.
Henson and Thompson could be traded before next year’s deadline, but until that happens, Chriss would have a massive roadblock in front of him for playing time. However, because of his athleticism, Chriss isn’t limited to playing power forward or center. He can very easily play small forward, and that could be the best role for him moving forward.
This would of course take plenty of work from new head coach John Beilein, but turning Chriss into a hybrid SF/PF could be beneficial for the Cavaliers. They are weakest on the wing, and Chriss could help fill that need. He would need to work on three main things during the offseason; losing weight to give him some added quickness, improving his three-point stroke, and improving his passing ability.
This project would also hinge on the Cavs re-signing Chriss, which in spite of the frontcourt logjam, makes sense. He is young and loaded with potential, and as Cleveland missed out on a top-three pick in this year’s draft, the team is still going to have a few years to develop young talent before becoming legitimate playoff contenders.
There were also reports that Chriss was neither the best teammate nor the hardest worker in Phoenix, but by all accounts he’s been an excellent fit in the locker room for the Cavaliers. Beilein’s specialty is player development, and Marquese Chriss certainly needs plenty of it. Keeping him around for the chance he reaches his potential is worth the risk, as long as Cleveland doesn’t have to overpay.