2022 Draft Watch: Evaluating Matthew Cleveland

September 5th, 2021

By Alan Lu

As we are still about a couple of months away from the start of the upcoming college basketball season, I decided to take the time to watch Florida State’s 6-7 incoming freshman forward, Matthew Cleveland play.  Florida State is a well-schooled college basketball program that consistently churns out one of the best defenses in the country, and they have built a strong pipeline that has sent numerous draft prospects to the NBA, which recently have included players such as Malik Beasley, Jonathan Isaac, Terance Mann, Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell, and Scottie Barnes.

Matthew Cleveland is a highly touted recruit that could be the next Florida State prospect to reach the NBA soon, so I set out to watch him play in a high school game.  I took the time to watch him play for Pace in a December 22nd, 2020 game against Grayson, with thanks to YouTube via Joyce D. L.  It was a competitive, hard-fought game for most of the way, but Pace was able to outlast Grayson due to their strong defense, athleticism, and scoring in order to get a double-digit victory.  Here are my thoughts on how Matthew Cleveland fared on this day, as well as how his game may translate to the NBA.

Florida State’s incoming 6-7 freshman forward, Matthew Cleveland is a high-flyer that could project to be a first round pick in the 2022 draft, especially if he turns in a good freshman season this year in college basketball.
(Photo:
Nicole Seitz, via Detroit Free Press)

Matthew Cleveland is a very athletic, combination forward that had a strong showing to help lead Pace Academy to a win over Grayson.  He is a high-flyer that excels at attacking the basket, and he is also a rangy defender that can cover plenty of ground defensively. Cleveland showed a knack for scoring on hustle plays.  He would often score on quick drives in transition.  He would go in to score on quick layups, as he can do so using either hand, and he also can drive in to throw down thunderous, high-flying dunks.  He also would score on quick cuts to the hoop.  Plus, he also showed that he was willing to absorb the contact to draw fouls in order to get to the foul line.

He also showed a solid ability to score off the dribble.  Cleveland scored on a tough layup after driving hard to his left, which also enabled him to get an extra free throw afterwards.  He also was able to drive hard to his left another time to get fouled in order to get to the free throw line.  He also showed a decent ability to score in the post.  Cleveland dribbled in to score on a thunderous dunk after getting the ball on the block.  Another time though, he used a spin move towards his right, but then missed on a turnaround jumper.

Also, Cleveland was able to go to his left to score on a smooth, pull-up jumper from the mid-range.  However, he struggled to make mid-range shots consistently off the dribble.  He didn’t take many threes, and he missed on both of his three-point attempts that he hoisted up from beyond the arc.  Cleveland didn’t shoot very well from the outside, and that will be something he will need to work on in the future. 

He also showcased fairly average playmaking skills in this game.  Cleveland didn’t look to pass much, but he showed that he can make passes off the dribble to find open teammates on the court.  He also showed that he can handle the ball in the open court.  On the downside, he would tend to throw low inaccurate passes that would get dropped, which would lead to turnovers, and he had a tendency to be inaccurate with his passes.  On another play, he and his team didn’t get up the court in time as they struggled to break the press, which led to a ten-second violation in the backcourt.

He also did a decent job of rebounding the basketball.  Cleveland was able to leap up to get his fair share of defensive boards, and sometimes he would push the ball quickly up the floor afterwards.  Also, Cleveland played satisfactory defense in this game.  He did a great job of jumping passes quickly to get a plethora of steals, and he would sometimes turn them into fast break points for his team.  He also was able to pounce on a loose ball to help his team get another steal, and he also deflected a pass out of bounds.  He also would look to contest shots in the paint to force misses.  On the downside, he can tend to gamble too much defensively.  He would sometimes make unnecessary rotations as he would double off his man and whiff on steal attempts, which would lead to scramble situations and for his team to allow scores at the rim.  He also was called for a reach-in foul when rotating to a ball handler on the break.  He also would tend to bite on pump fakes, which would lead him to be out of position.  Other times, he would over-help in the paint, which would lead him to be late to rotate back, and it led him to allow an opponent to score on an open three-point shot once.

In general, Matthew Cleveland is a very athletic, high-motor forward that could excel at making plays on both ends of the floor in the NBA someday.  He will need to improve his outside shot and his playmaking skills, but his ability to attack the basket and to defend combined with having strong physical tools could enable him to go in the late first to the second round range in the 2022 draft.  He is a talented prospect that may have considerable upside, and he could end up being a solid role player in the NBA.

Pace Academy’s 6-6 soon-to-be high school senior forward, Josh Reed also played very well to help lead his team to a win over Grayson.  He showed off versatile scoring skills, and he had a solid all-around game to help his team get the victory. Reed excelled at scoring on strong drives to the basket.  He can do so using either hand, and he has good speed, body control, and finishing ability that would enable him to score on acrobatic layups around the basket.  He also showed a good ability to knock down mid-range jumpers.  Reed was able to run off of a quick curl cut to make one off the catch, and he also pulled up to make a mid-range shot off the bank another time.

He also was able to draw free throws on a turnaround jumper in the post.  He also attempted to score in traffic after getting the ball on a roll to the rim, but missed that time.  Reed was fairly streaky with his three-point shot, as he struggled to consistently make spot-up threes, but he was able to show that he can make threes both off the catch and dribble, and he can knock them down when he is given an ample amount of time and space to get his shot off.

He also displayed decent playmaking skills in this game.  Reed can throw long accurate passes, as he was able to find a teammate ahead on the break, and he also can throw entry passes as well as pass out of the post to consistently find the open man.  He also was able to make a drive and kick pass to show off his ability to pass the basketball.  On the downside, he did show a bit of a loose handle when bringing the ball up.  On one play, he received the ball in the mid-post, and he dribbled but lost the ball to commit a turnover late in this match.

He also showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball.  Reed was able to leap up to get plenty of boards in this game, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and sometimes he would bring the ball up after getting defensive rebounds.  He also played good defense in this game.  Reed showed a knack for blocking shots in the post due to possessing good athleticism, length, and timing.  He also would get his hands on passes to get steals, and he also poked a ball away to nearly get another.  He also would actively contest shots to force misses.  On the downside, there was one play where he didn’t even contest a corner three, as his team allowed the opponent to score early on.  He also got beat off the dribble another time, which forced a teammate to rotate to commit the foul.

In summary, Josh Reed is an athletic, skilled combo forward that may be an underrated prospect for the NBA.  He showed off solid, all-around skills, and he was able to do a little bit of everything to help his team get the win.  He will need to continue to improve his three-point shot, but his athleticism, versatility, and skill set could enable him to be an effective role player in the NBA someday.

Cleveland State’s 6-6 incoming freshman forward, Cole Middleton also played well for Pace Academy in his team’s win over Grayson.  He is a strong, athletic bruiser that can get tough scores in the paint, and he also rebounded and defended very well in this game. Middleton was quite active at scoring around the basket.  He would score on quick tip-ins after grabbing offensive rebounds, and he also managed to score on a strong put back another time.  Sometimes he would miss on put back attempts due to rushing, though.  He also showed an adequate ability to score in the post.  Middleton managed to score on a sweeping jump hook with his left hand.  On another play, he tried to score using a drop step, but missed on a turnaround jumper. He also was able to dribble to his left to score on a smooth, fadeaway jumper from around the left elbow to show his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers.  He also went to his left to draw free throws on a strong drive to the basket another time.

He also displayed fairly average playmaking skills in this game.  Middleton was able to pass out of the post to find an open shooter to help set up a score for a teammate.  He also set an on-ball screen to help his teammate get an open driving lane and shot on another possession.  He didn’t always catch passes on offense though, and he dropped a couple of low inaccurate passes that led to team turnovers.

Plus, Middleton did a tremendous job of rebounding the basketball.  He was quite active on the glass, and he was basically a chairman of the boards in this game.  He would often pull down many boards on both ends of the floor, and he was able to push the ball up the court a couple of times off of defensive rebounds.  Early on though, he appeared to be called for committing an over the back foul when going for a defensive rebound in this contest.

He also played solid defense in this game.  Middleton was able to deflect a pass to nearly get a steal, and he excelled at contesting shots both out on the perimeter and in the paint to get numerous stops for his team.  He showed the footwork to be able to defend opponents off the dribble, and he has good strength to hold his ground when defending in the post to consistently force misses.  There was one play where he was too aggressive on the close out, as he then got beat off the dribble to allow a score.

Overall, Cole Middleton had a solid showing to help lead Pace to a win over Grayson.  He didn’t take any three-point shots, but he is a powerful, undersized forward that excelled at making plays in the paint to help his team on both ends of the floor.  While it’s uncertain if his game will allow him to effectively transition to the NBA someday, as he basically is like a big man in a wing player’s body, he should likely be a solid player at the collegiate level.  He was a good get for Cleveland State, and Middleton could end up carving out a lengthy playing career in professional basketball someday.

Grayson’s 6-4 soon-to-be high school senior guard, Robert Cowherd played fairly well in his team’s loss to Pace Academy.  He excelled at attacking the basket to help his team on offense, which enabled him to draw many free throws in this game.  He also seemed to be really helped out by the officials, but his ability to drive to the rim, contort his body, and absorb the contact enabled him to get to the foul line frequently.

Cowherd did a great job of driving hard to the hoop, which enabled him to get many free throws in this game.  He also managed to get fouled when posting up to get to the foul line, even though he appeared to have his shot blocked.  Cowherd also made an open corner three early on, but he struggled to consistently knock down spot-up threes, and he didn’t seem to take enough shots overall in this contest. He looked to be perhaps above average as a playmaker.  He was able to make a drive and kick pass to set up a scoring chance for his teammate, and Cowherd showed that he can deftly handle the basketball.  He also took good care of the basketball, though he didn’t pick up many assists in this game, either.

He also did an adequate job of rebounding the basketball.  Cowherd would chase down defensive boards, and he would frequently push the ball quickly up the floor off of them afterwards.  Defensively, he looked to be about average at best.  He was able to deflect a pass to nearly get a steal.  However, he would struggle to defend out on the perimeter.  On one play, he was caught ball watching, as he sagged too far off his man, and he was late to rotate back, which led him to allow an opponent to score on a mid-range shot.  He also committed a foul on a drive because he prevented his opponent from getting to his landing spot, which led his team to allow a basket and an extra free throw.

Overall, Robert Cowherd is a fairly athletic, agile combo guard that can score the basketball, but he will need to be more assertive on offense, and he will also need to improve his defense.  He made solid plays down the stretch, and he could be a solid mid-tier recruiting prospect for college basketball.

Grayson’s 6-3, soon-to-be high school senior guard, Gicarri Harris also played fairly well in his team’s loss to Pace Academy.  He did a good job of scoring off the dribble, and he is an athletic shot creator that really showed a knack to get to the free throw line.  He really struggled at the free throw line, but he showed off solid offensive skills in this game. Harris was able to score on a bank floater off of a speedy drive to the hoop.  He also frequently got to the free throw line when attacking the basket, though he also tended to miss many of his free throws.  He also was able to run the floor to get the ball, and he smartly used a pump fake to score around the basket. On the downside, he didn’t take many outside shots, but it also doesn’t seem to be a strength of his right now.  He took one three-point shot from the corner, but he missed completely as he threw up an air-ball that time.

He also showed off satisfactory playmaking skills.  Harris drove to the hoop, and he threw an accurate lob pass to a cutter to notch an assist.  He also threw a very long pass to get the ball to a corner shooter on the break.  Another time though, he was handling the ball, but he had it poked away from him to nearly turn the ball over. He also did a good job of rebounding the basketball, and he was especially active at crashing the offensive glass.  He also defended well.  Harris was able to deflect a pass to nearly get a steal.  He also contested a three to get a stop on a separate possession.  Overall, Harris had a solid showing off the bench.  He will need to improve his shooting stroke and outside shot, but if he can continue to hone his game, he could end up being a solid mid-tier recruiting prospect for college basketball in the future.

Other Notes:

I had also previously written about Grayson’s basketball team in a game where they played against Jabari Smith and Sandy Creek that took place on November 25th, 2020. A different set of players from Grayson’s team seemed to be impressive in that game, but I also felt that Robert Cowherd played well in both that game and in this game. Overall, it was fun to watch Matthew Cleveland play in this game against Grayson, and it could serve as an early preview of what maybe to expect out of him for the upcoming college basketball season. Thank you for reading.

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