INDEPENDENCE — Sergey Karasev doesn’t care if he plays shooting guard or small forward for the Cavaliers.
The No. 19 pick in the NBA Draft just wants to play.
“I’m not a stupid guy,” the 19-year-old Russian said Tuesday during an introductory press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
“I understand the game. I think if I work hard and show Coach (Mike) Brown, I can be on the team and in the rotation.”
At 6-foot-7, Karasev has the size to play small forward, but he was the first to admit he needs to add some muscle to his 200-pound frame.
“I played in the Russian league,” he said. “It’s a very tough league with a lot of physical guys. I know I need a couple more pounds, but I think I’m going to feel very great in the NBA.”
Karasev, who said he patterns his game after San Antonio swingman Manu Ginobili, has fulfilled his contractual obligations to Russian pro team BC Triumph and is expected to sign his rookie contract by the end of the week.
Under the rookie pay scale, he can make a maximum of $1.468 million in the first year of his contract and almost $4.6 million over his first three seasons, with the Cavs holding a team option on a fourth year and the ability to make a qualifying offer for a fifth.
“What we were really excited about is his skill set,” said David Griffin, the Cavs’ vice president of basketball operations. “His basketball IQ is outstanding. He’s a very accomplished young player.”
Though he’s young and needs to mature physically, Karasev could challenge backup C.J. Miles for minutes at small forward, or even push incumbent starter Alonzo Gee at some point.
Exactly when — or if — he’ll be ready to do either is purely speculative at this point, but he has the kind of shot-making ability and ballhandling skills the Cavs have lacked at the position the last three seasons.
The left-hander — he’s considered to be ambidextrous around the basket — could also see some time at shooting guard, but Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack will get the bulk of the minutes at that spot.
“I think I can play both positions,” Karasev said. “It depends how Coach puts me on the court. Everybody knows shooting stuff is my best game. My court vision and creating for my teammates, I’ll bring a lot of assists to the team. Now I need to work on my physical (development).”
Karasev, whose game reminds some NBA followers of former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc, will have no limitations put on him by the Cavs, who followed his career for years.
“We got to scout him at every step of his development,” said Griffin, who was standing in because general manager Chris Grant is attending a USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas.
Karasev helped Russia win the World University Games championship by averaging 19.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 24.9 minutes. He shot 56 percent from the field, including 46 percent on 3-pointers (20-for-44).
While playing for BC Triumph in the best pro league in Russia, Karasev averaged 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 33.3 minutes.
“Sergey doesn’t want to be known as a shooter,” Griffin said. “He wants to be known as a shot maker. He said anybody can be a shooter.”
Karasev, who will wear No. 10 with the Cavs, was coached by his father, Vasily, a former standout pro point guard, with BC Triumph.
The elder Karasev was also recently named coach of Russia’s senior national team and will once again coach his son during the EuroBasket event in Slovenia from Sept 4-22.
“These last few years, we grew up together,” the younger Karasev said. “I tried to help him and he tried to help me.”
Due in part to the help of his father, Karasev is about to join what is widely considered the best pro basketball league on the planet.
“For me when I was young, it was a dream to play in the NBA,” he said. “When I heard the Cleveland Cavaliers took me, I was excited.”