Windler Staying Positive as He Charges Toward Cavaliers Debut

Sam Amico

CANTON, Ohio -- Dylan Windler's first shot as a pro basketball player didn't come with the Cavaliers, but he did take a nice step toward debuting in the NBA.

The final numbers will show Windler scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 18 minutes with the G League's Canton Charge -- who rallied to beat the Rio Grande Valley Vipers by a 116-109 count Thursday.

But for Windler and the Cavs, this game was about more than stats. It was a chance for Windler to take the floor and get some real live action. The 6-foot-6 rookie has missed the entire season with a stress reaction in his lower left leg.

Cavs general manager Koby Altman, assistant GM Mike Gansey and power forward Larry Nance Jr. were among those with front row seats.

"It felt good; I didn't play too many minutes," Windler said of his run with the Charge. "The training staff wanted to limit me a little bit. I didn't feel too bad, conditioning-wise. Even though I can't do a lot of five-on-five contact stuff (in practice), I've been doing other things. I've been riding the bike, running on the treadmill and other things too. It felt good just to be out there."

Windler was selected with the No. 26 overall draft pick. He was one of three first-rounders for the Cavs, joining Darius Garland (No. 5 overall) and Kevin Porter Jr. (No. 30).

While Garland and Porter are getting valuable in-game experience, Windler has been stuck on the sideline wearing a suit. Until last week, he had barely practiced with the rest of the team. It was more like a series of stationary shooting drills.

Windler never missed a game in four college seasons at Belmont. He only missed two games as a high school player in Indiana. That was a sprained ankle. This is a little more serious.

"I'm trying to deal with it physically and mentally," he said. "Getting back to full speed is a process. I'm just trying to take it day by day, stay positive."

He entered the game midway through the first quarter and his first basket was especially impressive. It happened after another member of the Charge had his shot blocked. Windler snagged the loose ball before it hit the ground, then quickly rose up, buried a 15-footer and got fouled. 

There is some NBA talent in the G League and Windler looked particularly polished. He was rusty, but he clearly possesses pro skills and athleticism. His game is mature.

"He makes the right basketball play," said acting Charge coach Tyler Neal. "He sees the floor and is a great communicator. He did a great job, he didn't press, he played hard."

Windler did commit four turnovers -- admitting part of that may have been the result of putting on uniform for the first time since the Las Vegas Summer League in July.

"Just trying to get my footwork back, my legs back under me," he said. "I had a couple of travels. Needed to get those out of the way."

Windler is on a minutes restriction in Canton. He said he suspects that he will be playing for the Charge for at least another week, maybe more, before making his Cavs debut.

"We just have to see how it feels going full speed," he said. "If everything goes well, probably a couple weeks (for his debut with the Cavs)."

The Charge were built for these type of rehab assignments.

"We're just working him back him in," Neal said. "His first run in the first quarter, we just wanted it to be quick and check his wind. It's a progression. We'll build him up as we go. ... The training staff in Cleveland tells us what he can do and we plug him in where he fits."

Speaking of Cleveland, the Cavaliers have struggled to a 5-15 record under first-year coach John Beilein. This is a season of youth and development. Windler will fit right in.

He plays the same swing position as Porter and Cedi Osman. He can also offer relief in the backcourt behind Garland and Collin Sexton. 

"Shooting is always an asset in today's league, being able to space the floor," Windler said. "Moving the ball is a big one. Sometimes things get stagnant. So being able to space the floor, move off the ball, cut. I think that's where I can help."

For now, Windler is just happy to be back on the court, playing a real game with referees and a shot clock. All he needs is patience and time to fully recover.

"It's not feeling too bad. A little sore. A little discomfort," he said. "But I gotta work through that. I think with this injury, a stress reaction, the doctors said you have to put a little bit of stress back on it for it to respond to that and heal. 

"We're gonna keep an eye on it. This is the first step, getting back out on that floor." 

NOTES: Cavaliers two-way player Dean Wade shined near the basket, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Wade is a 6-10 power forward and went undrafted out of Kansas State. ... Cavs camp attendees Jaron Blossomgame (19 points) and Sindarius Thornwell (six points) started for Rio Grande Valley. ... Blossomgame appeared in 27 games for the Cavs last season, averaging 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds. ... Sheldon Mac added 19 points for the Charge and Cavs camp invitee J.P. Macura scored 17.