Virtual reality may find its place in the Cavaliers’ player development program thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NBA’s suspension in play after the games of March 11 cost the young Cavs a valuable month of growth. The team’s practice facility opened Friday, but only four players are allowed in at one time and group drills are prohibited. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff explained the social distancing restrictions as “one player, one coach, one ball.”
There is much to do, and little that can be done at Cleveland Clinic Courts. The Cavs have seven rotation players on the roster age 25 and under, including four guards — Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr. — selected in the past two drafts. Forward Cedi Osman is a part of the team’s future after signing a four-year, $30.8 million contract extension in October.
So the lockdown has forced the staff to start thinking about technological advancements that could accelerate the players’ advancement during the Cavs’ rebuild.
The first step may have been when the player development staff put together a ball handling session on a Zoom call.
“We’ve had guys show up for that in groups,” Bickerstaff said in a Zoom conference with local media Wednesday.
But that might have been just the beginning.
“We have to be more creative,” Bickerstaff said. “In talking to some people around the basketball world, [there has been] the use of virtual reality, and how do we use that to help development.
“You basically can put a guy on the floor and he’s got to move through space like he would on a real court playing against opponents.”
Players can shoot 3s or drive and finish at the rim by themselves. According to Kelsey Russo of The Athletic, one Cavs player bought a hoop at Walmart and assembled it himself while isolated.
But that doesn’t encompass everything the Cavs want their young core to work on.
“The individual development is a little more difficult because sometimes it takes three or four people working with a guy to get them to understand the reads on a pick and roll, those type of things,” Bickerstaff said.
During the crisis, Bickerstaff said he has most frequently talked to Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce and Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton. While their chats help during the isolation, they are also brainstorming.
“It’s trying to gauge what’s going on in different places,” Bickerstaff said. “Everybody has different reasons why they’re doing things, and we’ve got to do what’s best for our group because each group is different. We can work through things and bounce ideas off one another.”
Bickerstaff said some of those conversations may prove fruitful even after the pandemic subsides.
“This has given us a unique opportunity to think outside the box, working with our staff and having conversations that we don’t always have to do what we’ve always done just because we’ve always done it,” Bickerstaff said. “This is an opportunity to push the envelope and try to come up with some new and creative things that can help our guys even when things do get back to normal.”