The post-LeBron era for the Cavaliers has gone relatively well, at least from an NBA Draft lottery perspective. Lady luck was on the team’s side again this season as the team won the Draft Lottery once again. If the Cavs end up making this pick it will be the fourth top four selection this team has made in the last five years. The team landed budding superstar Kyrie Irving with the top overall selection in 2011, Tristan Thompson three picks later and Dion Waiters last season. Irving has been a stud, Thompson serviceable and the jury is still out on Waiters who was a questionable pick just one year ago. The one thing that all of this lottery luck hasn’t brought the team thus far? On-court success. And that lack of success in the W-L column is the exact reason why GM Chris Grant needs to hit a home run with this pick. Unfortunately landing the top pick brings expectations that will difficult to fulfill in such a mediocre draft. Owner Dan Gilbert infamously declared that the Cavaliers would win a title before LeBron. That obviously didn’t happen but this team is much improved and has a talented young nucleus (Irving) to work with. However, the franchise appears to be growing impatient with losing, so there could be an urgency to try to add a player with the ability to impact instantly.
Option #1 – Ben McLemore
If the Cavs had done the logical thing and taken Harrison Barnes last season then there would be very little discussion about what the team would do with this pick. McLemore would have been the easy pick, sliding into the two guard spot between Irving and Barnes. But as it stands, the team took a chance on Waiters and thus don’t have a pressing need for another shooting guard. Some scouts believe that the Cavs will take McLemore and either go with a three guard lineup or move Waiters to more of a Sixth Man role which is one he thrived in during his time at Syracuse. McLemore has a silky smooth shooting stroke and would fit well along side of Irving as an excellent spot up threat. McLemore came in at just under 6’5 in shoes at the combine which a little disappointing but his athleticism results more than made up for that. McLemore still hasn’t developed that killer instinct and hasn’t yet learned to take over games like someone with his talents should but it’s important to remember that he was just a freshman and playing under the pressure cooker of the NCAA tournament was brand new for him. He is just scratching the surface of his potential as he only played one season at Kansas after sitting out his freshman season due to eligibility issues, and in reality appears to have the most long term NBA potential, regardless of the fact that it’s been 40 years since a shooting guard went first overall.
Option #2 – Nerlens Noel
In what looks to be one of the weakest drafts in recent memory, no single player has separated himself from the field but before his injury, Noel was considered the player with the most upside and odds on favorite to go first. The Cavaliers used their second first rounder in 2012 to take Tyler Zeller out of North Carolina and have Anderson Varejao under contract for the next two seasons so Noel doesn’t necessarily fill a position of need but his length, athleticism and upside may be too much to pass up. Noel is an exceptional shot blocker and help side defender. But his offensive game is still very raw and he wasn’t able to show enough during his lone injury-shortened season at Kentucky that would lead scouts to believe that he’ll ever be enough of an offensive force to warrant the top overall selection. For a Cleveland team that desperately needs to add scoring in the front court, Noel might be too much like the aforementioned Thompson who the Cavs have slotted at the PF spot. Both players are long, athletic and springy with a limited offensive repertoire. Would the team be willing to part ways with Thompson to make Noel fit? Taking Noel would solidify that front line defensively but would continue to put a lot of pressure on Kyrie Irving to put up big numbers on the offensive end. The ownership has made it clear they are committed to winning next season. Noel doesn’t give them much hope for immediate contribution, with his availability to begin next season in doubt. So how patient the front office can convince ownership to be could factor into whether Noel ultimately goes first.
Option #3 – Alex Len
The Maryland sophomore is out 6 months after having surgery on his left ankle for a stress fracture and along with Noel and Anthony Bennett is unable to work out for teams leading up to the draft. Cleveland is said to be dissatisfied with their mid first rounder from last year, center Tyler Zeller so Len becomes a dark horse for them. Whether they would actually take him at #1 appears unlikely at this point, however his upside is considerable if they decided they wanted to swing for the fences as they have done with their previous high picks. Len is far from a sure bet, but is a 7’1 center with excellent mobility and shows some promising touch on his shot. He also fits into their team well, alongside Tristan Thompson, as his offensive upside is far greater than that of Noel’s.
Option 4 – Otto Porter
If the Cavs were to make this pick based purely off of need then Porter would be the guy. He makes the most sense from a roster standpoint as he fits the biggest need/hole in the Cavs current roster. The team has Alonzo Gee at the small forward spot but he isn’t nearly the player that Porter is/will be and he isn’t the long-term solution. Porter is arguably the most NBA ready player in this draft. Porter improved immensely between his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Hoyas. He became a much more efficient scorer and was the anchor for the team defensively. Porter moves well without the ball which is a must for a team that features a point guard who has the ball in his hands the majority of the time. He is a solid defender and in a conference that features LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Paul George, Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony you can never have enough wing defenders. Porter lacks the upside that you normally would like with the top pick, but he has a high basketball IQ and a great motor.
Option #5 – Trade
The Cavs already have a number of young and talented players on their roster. What they don’t have is experience. Adding a McLemore, Noel, Len or Porter won’t get this team much closer to the playoffs next season but would add another chip to their nucleus for the long run. But the owner and the fan base aren’t thinking long term anymore. They know what they have in Irving and they know that they need to start building around him quickly. The best and most likely scenario for the Cavs would be to move this pick for an established veteran and #2 option. The problem is most GMs will try to avoid this #1 pick like the plague as the expectations just don’t match the talent available, meaning that they will be low balled for the pick.
The Cavs are said to want a veteran forward if they were to move this pick and there are a few available. The Celtics could decide to move on and rebuild which would make Paul Pierce expendable. Would a package of Pierce and Avery Bradley be enough to get the Cavs to bite? The Atlanta Hawks have two first round picks and a player in Josh Smith that would benefit greatly from a sign and trade. The Hawks could offer up a package that included Josh Smith, the #17 pick and the #47 pick in a deal. Smith would get his money, the Cavs would get an established player who can do a number of things on the court and the Hawks could roll the dice on a player like Noel that would allow Al Horford to slide over to his more natural power forward spot.
Ultimately the pick will likely come down to McLemore vs. Noel, and who the team values more between Tristan Thompson or Dion Waiters could be the determining factor. There are a number of other scenarios and trade rumors floating around currently and numerous more that will come up between now and the time of the draft. The Cavs could go in a number of different directions, making this the most intriguing storyline of this year’s draft. Noel, McLemore and Porter are all talented players and will be in the NBA for years to come but the team has to make a decision on the direction they are going in. Compete now or give it another couple of years. Knowing Dan Gilbert, this team wants to compete now and will quite possibly make a move as it gets closer to draft day to move out of that top slot.
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