Celtics Summer League: Why Mfiondu Kabengele is worth a closer look

Mfiondu Kabengele (Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)
Mfiondu Kabengele (Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports) /

One team’s trash can be another team’s treasure. So hope that the Boston Celtics found a gem digging around Cleveland.

Last October the Cleveland Cavaliers waived C/F Mfiondu Kabengele and guard Broderic Thomas. Waiving Kabengele was understandable since the Cavaliers drafted Evan Mobley.

Days later, Thomas signed a two-way contract with the Celtics. Kabengele signed with the Houston Rockets, but was waived a day later.

Maybe Boston picked up Kabengele, took a close look at him, tossed him back before picking up Thomas back then. But the Celtics swung back around this spring, took another look at Kabengele, and with a shrug said, “Eh…why not?”

Were the Boston Celtics not interested in Kabengele before? After the trade deadline Celtics president of basketball operations basically filled the roster with some Maine Celtics and Luke Kornet just to have enough bodies on the roster.

Kornet didn’t play any relevant minutes in his second stint with the Celtics. It wasn’t a surprise. Boston was familiar with Kornet from his previous stint with the team last year.

Not that Kabengele would had logged any meaningful minutes, but his potential was worth investigating back then. With a little more seasoning in the G League, the Celtics like what they see from Kabengele now, so they signed him to the Summer League roster.

The Boston Celtics may have found a rim running big man in Mfiondu Kabengele to develop in Maine

Kabengele joins a squad highlighted by Boston Celtics second round draft picks JD Davison and Juhann Begarin and Summer League signing Trevion Williams and in Vegas. Game one is July 9th at 5:30 against the Miami Heat.

Kabengele is a 6-9 250-pound big man with floor-spacing ability. For the G League’s Rio Grande Vipers he averaged 17.5 ppg while shooting 59.4 percent, including 44 percent from three. He also grabbed 9.3 boards per game and a block per game.

He wasn’t just stuffing the box score. Kabengele was the best 3-point shooter for the Vibers by far (4.5 percentage points better than Daishen Nix), led the team in rebounds (minimum 20 games), and was third on the team in scoring.

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In the playoffs, Kabengele stepped up his game. In game one of the G League Finals, he nearly logged a triple-double (19 points, 14 rebounds, eight blocks). To seal the championship, Kabengele led the Vipers with 29 points, 10 boards and six blocks.

His scouting report says he’s also a factor on defense, supported by the 14 blocks over two playoff games. Makes sense, since he played for Florida State. And his uncle is NBA hall of famer Dikembe Mutombo. Defense apparently runs in the family.

Kabengele is a good athlete. He gets up and down the court with ease. He also has good bounce to his game. Add to that a 7-3 wingspan and he would be a great lob target off pick and rolls or screens.

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Maybe Kabengele is a late bloomer. He’s been on five NBA teams since being drafted 27th overall in 2019. Nothing wrong with that. What matters most is Kabengele kept working hard, won a championship, and now is getting the look the Boston Celtics should had gave him back in October.

If he shows well in Vegas, Kabengele could earn a two-way deal with the Celtics. The best case scenario would be Kabengele is finally NBA ready and earns a role as a rim runner off the bench.

On Wednesday the Celtics tendered a two-way qualifying offer for Thomas, making him a restricted free agent July 1. It’s very possible that Kabengele could be Thomas’ teammate again by the time the Summer League is over.

This could be one great pick up by the Celtics from that Cleveland dumpster dive.