Since 1990, only two players below 5’ 10” have been selected in the NBA draft: Nate Robinson in 2005, and Isaiah Thomas in 2011. Oakland guard Kay Felder believes he deserves to join that group, even though draft experts have him as a second-round pick at best.
While a major reason for Felder’s low standing on draft boards is his 5’ 9” frame, he does not mind his size, or lack thereof, one bit.
“I love that I’m 5 foot 9,” he said. “I can’t change it. The only thing I can do is prove people wrong and keep working hard on my game.”
The undersized guard gave up his final year of eligibility at Oakland and with it a chance to become the NCAA’s all-time assist leader and a two-time All-American. He signed with an agent in early April, relinquishing his amateur status.
Felder averaged 24.4 points, 9.3 assists and 2.0 steals last season. Among players with at least a 28 percent usage rate, his 120 offensive rating ranked No. 6 in the nation, according to kenpom.com. He led the NCAA with 6.2 offensive win shares.
While the numbers are evidence of his scoring ability and court vision, Felder also possesses athletic ability that allows him to get above the rim.
“He’s a 5’ 9” Dominique Wilkins,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “He does stuff that makes you go: holy s**! We’ll throw him alley-oop passes and the ball looks like it’s going out of bounds, and all of a sudden it’s in the basket.”
Still, his small stature has left him fighting for attention from NBA scouts and executives.
“Everyday we’re in the gym, it’s reiterated,” said A.W. Canada, Felder’s former coach at Pershing High School in Detroit who has been training Felder since he declared. “Not that you can get undrafted or you’re trying to get drafted, but this is what you want to be you’re livelihood for the next however many years. So this is how hard you have to go at it.“
Felder has felt slighted before. He received a third team All-America nod, a major accomplishment for a mid-major player. But he was not satisfied, thinking he deserved a first team selection.
“That definitely added a little fuel to the fire,” Felder said. “I know what I’m capable of.”
Now Felder thinks he’s capable of being a successful NBA player. He believes he can sneak into the first round but does not expect to be an immediate star in the NBA, even though he had the ball in his hands nearly every possession during his three years at Oakland.
“I’m not a guy who needs the ball in his hands all the time to score or get myself going,” Felder said. “I understand coming in, if I do go to the NBA, I’d be maybe the last option. I have to make sure I’m doing the little things.”
Playing without the ball has been a focus of Felder’s workouts with Canada. Felder has worked on catch-and-shoot situations, floaters, pull-ups and screen-and-roll action to help diversify his game. Felder said Canada has also had him adjust to defending players as big as “a typical wing in the NBA.”
Canada has been through this rodeo before. He worked out with Quincy Acy, an undersized 6’ 7” power forward, before the 2012 draft. Acy was drafted by the Raptors in the second round and has since carved out a career as a role player, starting 29 games and averaging 5.2 points for the Kings this season.
Although Acy and Felder play different positions, Canada said there are similarities for any undersized player trying to forge an NBA career.
“You’ve got to give them something they don’t have,” Canada said. “Just like Isaiah Thomas now, the Celtics need him. You’ve got to provide a need for a team. I think scoring-wise and playmaking-wise, Kay can make a real difference for a team.”
Felder’s potential as an NBA player isn’t inhibited only by his size. He finishes almost exclusively with his left hand around the rim, and his defense has room for improvement, although he partially credits that to carrying such a huge load on offense at Oakland.
Felder is perceived as a fierce competitor, a trait that can help him make an NBA roster.
“He saw how hard Quincy worked,” Canada said. “Quincy has been real vital to Kay in explaining the kind of mentality you’ve got to have when nobody believes in you. But Kay works—he wants it. It’s going to be his, because he really wants it.”