If the San Antonio Spurs intend to take a swing in the second round, Arizona State’s Zylan Cheatham is well worth the risk.
Character matters to the San Antonio Spurs and ASU’s Zylan Cheatham is full of it. Measuring at 6-foot-8 with a seven-foot wingspan, Cheatham is a multifaceted power forward with the interior presence of a high-upside big man. This kind of potential, combined with the competitive spirit of a professional and the leadership qualities of someone well beyond his years, make him a great fit for Gregg Popovich’s program.
As a redshirt senior under historic floor general turned head coach Bobby Hurley, Cheatham averaged a double-double of 12.1 points and 10.4 rebounds along with 3.2 assists per contest. He made 53.4 percent of his field goal attempts and made a whopping 44 percent of his limited three-pointers this past season.
Cheatham stands out from the crowd for working tirelessly to alter opponent’s shots and close out from the weakside for chase-down blocks, serving as a rambunctious help-defender with the IQ necessary to adequately read the floor. His long reach allows him to contest jump shots around the perimeter off of closeouts while keeping his feet active in case his matchup tries to take him off the dribble.
Zylan Cheatham has a close relationship with Jason Terry who offered some advice on making it in the league.
— Ashley Nevel (@AshleyNevel) June 2, 2019
He’s also an excellent transition player that sets up teammates by attacking the boards with ferocity and using his court awareness to his advantage. Cheatham can take the ball up the floor himself, utilizing an array of in-and-out dribble moves or short hesitations to throw his defender off guard. He’s also got a keen eye for outlet passes with solid all-around judgement, always seeming to make the right play on the fastbreak.
Even as a trailer, Cheatham combines great size, strength and athleticism to throw down ecstatic dunks, finish tough layups or kick out to open shooters around the arc.
These capabilities are a major reason why Cheatham has drawn comparisons to players like Draymond Green or Pascal Siakam. This is not to say that he’ll reach the capabilities of those players, but the model for the power forward position is changing and Cheatham seems to be trending in that direction.
It’s no secret that Gregg Popovich respects players with exceptional work ethic, so he could easily take a liking to Cheatham. Between his time at San Diego State and his senior season in Tempe, Cheatham changed his shot mechanics to expand his range and become a more consistent jump shooter.
There’s still plenty of work to be done in that department, but the proper development staff could groom him to become a legitimate three-point threat in the future. Shooting 44 percent from deep is a great baseline for a player that’s shown a willingness to improve his jumper.
Arizona State's Zylan Cheatham showing off his athleticism at the Roc Nation Sports Pro Day in Los Angeles. pic.twitter.com/54HrfB7Jeq
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 29, 2019
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San Antonio was an average rebounding team in the 2018-19 season, so an additional high-octane rebounder in the frontcourt would be very impact to this unit’s effectiveness on the glass. He led the Pac-12 in rebounds per game this past year and posted an averaged of 12.7 rebounds per 40 minutes in that span.
Cheatham is garnering high praise from draft experts as of late, but his stock is still iffy as a whole. It’s hard to imagine him breaking into the first round, especially considering his advanced age in comparison to many of the top prospects in this year’s draft class. Still, the Spurs have never shied away from older draft prospects and likely wouldn’t start now.
Taking a flyer on Cheatham in the second round and developing him through the G League in Austin could be hugely beneficial for the Spurs in the long run. If he reaches his ceiling, Cheatham would fit excellently alongside San Antonio’s group of up-and-coming guards because of his potential as a defender and playmaker, fitting the identity of this group.
Should he slip out of the draft and into the unrestricted free agent pool, Cheatham would be a solid option to take one of the Spurs’ two-way contracts next season.