This year’s Summer League leader in total points scored was a little surprising. No, he wasn’t a top 2016 draft pick such as Jaylen Brown or a young returning starter like D’Angelo Russell. Instead, Cleveland role player Jordan McRae appeared in seven games and scored 170 points for a cool 24.3 per contest. While it’s also true that he hoisted the most field goal attempts, McRae made his case for a spot in the rotation as the Cavaliers try to repeat as champions. Now that reserve guard Matthew Dellavedova signed with Milwaukee, the door may be open a crack for McRae.
McRae certainly benefited from staying four years at the University of Tennessee. After ending his first season with just 18 total points, he scored that much on a nightly basis as a senior during 2013-14. The result was a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen, where the Volunteers fell in a narrow loss to Michigan. That summer, McRae was drafted in the second round by San Antonio, a franchise known for its shrewd talent evaluation.
Like many players selected late in the draft, McRae endured a bumpy road to begin his professional career. He averaged 21 points in four Summer League contests but ended up signing with Melbourne United in Australia. That led to him taking home Player of the Month honors for his play in December of 2014. The Spurs would later trade McRae’s rights to the Sixers, who assigned him to the D-League’s Delaware 87ers.
The next season Philadelphia waived McRae, who at age 24 was already becoming something of a basketball nomad. Phoenix was the next team to claim McRae and used him in 7 NBA games. McRae also played in the D-League All-Star Game as a member of the Bakersfield Jam. Ironically, he never actually got to wear that team’s uniform in a regular season contest. Less than two weeks later, McRae again became a free agent before striking a deal with the Cavs.
McRae held his own over 15 games in Cleveland despite playing sparingly. In addition, he appeared in two playoff contests as the Cavs marched to a Finals victory in Game 7. The day after the team got back to Cleveland from their team celebration in Las Vegas, LeBron James was already training. That’s the sort of leadership McRae says he wants to learn from as his career goes along. Nothing comes easily, though. McRae will have to compete with fellow Summer League guard Kay Felder for consideration as a Cleveland reserve.
McRae’s highlight reel game at the NBA level was a 36-point outburst in Cleveland’s season finale April 13 against the Pistons while Kyrie Irving and LeBron James were resting. McRae even sank the game-tying shot before the Cavs fell in overtime. As he remembered it, “I think the Detroit game helped me earn the respect of the guys.” James even got around to praising McRae for being a team player during the championship celebration in Cleveland.
McRae’s recent Summer League performance opened some eyes, but it wasn’t surprising to anyone watching him in Developmental League play. On January 26, he scored a whopping 61 for the 87ers against the Cavs’ affiliate known as the Canton Charge. He got to the line often, ending the night with 16 made free throws and hitting 3 of 8 three-point attempts as well. Delaware went on to win 130-123 as McRae provided 11 rebounds and 7 assists for good measure. Over 29 games, he never failed to score in double digits while averaging 23 points and shooting 46% from the field. While it’s not Kyle Korver territory, shooting 32% on threes demonstrates that he has enough range to keep opposing defenses honest at the NBA level.
Where does McRae go from here?
In Summer League and the D-League he’s a volume shooter, but his opportunities appear limited on such a talented NBA team. After averaging 7 minutes per game for Cleveland last season, McRae will have to make the most of scarce playing time again. Hopefully for McRae, he can crack double digit minutes and draw the attention of another team. Perhaps a rival executive would entertain trading for McRae, using him as a J.R. Smith-type scorer in a more major bench role. No matter what, McRae has come a long way in a short time. After all, not many guys who have played professionally in the Land Down Under end up with their names on the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
photo via llananba