Yesterday, as WFNY’s Scott Sargent was announcing his trial separation with the NBA Draft Lottery, I found myself nodding along in agreement as I consumed every word of it. Scott is exactly right. The Draft Lottery is the worst. It was kind of fun the first couple years, dreaming of top picks and thinking about potential. In previous years I’ve spent countless hours playing the lottery machine, reading about the top 2 or 3 prospects, and dreaming of what winning the top spot would mean for the team.
But the more time you spend wallowing in the murkiness of luck, lethargy, and the tantalizing siren song of the NBA Draft Lottery, the more you realize it’s not a scene you really want to be a part of. As much as I love seeing Nick Gilbert proudly represent the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers franchise, I’d be perfectly content if I don’t see him on TV again until it’s on a podium holding a trophy.
And thus, shortly after Nick Gilbert told the national audience that he, too, was tired of being there, the Cavaliers won the #1 pick in the draft. And in doing so, the Cavaliers opened the door to a world of options and opportunities. The team may or may not be in the lottery again next year, but you have to believe that at worst Nick Gilbert will be sitting in the top row instead of his usual front-left spot on the stage.
That’s the fun part of this. Thinking about all the options and potential for roster improvement is exciting. But the reality is, with so many options in front of him, choosing the right move is an enormous responsibility for GM Chris Grant.
Of course, there’s also a darker reality to this situation. The truth is, this is the worst draft to have the #1 pick since 2006. There’s no real, clear-cut choice at #1. The decision of who to pick at #1 will require weighing factors such as team need, injuries, immediate impact, long-term upside, etc. In most drafts, there’s an easy choice at #1. This year, it feels a little like picking the lesser of two evils.
The good news for Cavs fans is that Chris Grant has done this before. It’s easy to forget already, but just 2 years ago, Kyrie Irving wasn’t the obvious #1 pick that everyone makes him out to be today. There was a lot of debate back then about whether taking Derrick Williams first and someone like Brandon Knight 4th wasn’t the better route for the Cavaliers. Thankfully Grant and Company made the right move then, and the hope is that they make the right move now.
But what is the right move for the Cavaliers? That’s a tricky question. In some ways, winning this lottery almost feels like a cruel joke, because the best fit for the Cavaliers right now, at this moment in time, is probably Otto Porter. Porter, of course, would be considered a reach at #1. But Porter fits the biggest immediate need. As a SF, he is a solid two-way player who can help space the floor a bit on offense while buying in to Mike Brown’s defensive scheme. But does Porter have the highest long-term upside? Probably not.
The player with the most potential and brightest future might be Ben McLemore. But McLemore isn’t a need for this team right now. Drafting a SG in the top 4 of the draft in back to back seasons is a bitter pill to swallow, even if McLemore is the best player available and the smartest pick1.
The consensus #1 prospect, however, seems to be Nerlens Noel. With Anderson Varejao getting older and constantly being considered in trade rumors, selecting the center of the future is appealing. And Noel’s raw defensive ability is mesmerizing. But his wire-thin frame is an enormous concern. I’m uncomfortable with the amount of footage I’ve seen of Noel being abused in the post by NBA prospects like Mason Plumlee and Alex Len. Preying on mediocre collegiate talent by using your superior athleticism is one thing, but banging in the post with the NBA’s elite centers when you weigh 206 pounds is a completely different beast. And then there’s also Noel’s surprisingly abysmal offensive skillset. Noel may be most observers’ favorite for the top pick in this theoretically weak draft, but that doesn’t make him a lock to be a long term impact player for the Cavaliers.
Of course, all of this is assuming the Cavaliers use this pick. One of the options the Cavaliers have is to trade this pick (and/or other picks/players). In my opinion, if the Cavaliers had their way, they would trade this pick. I think the front office would absolutely love to bundle picks and/or players to acquire an impact player, preferably a young-ish player with star potential. If we take Dan Gilbert at face value, then making the playoffs is the worst-case scenario goal for next year. Drafting Noel or McLemore doesn’t necessarily improve the odds of that happening this season. But trading for an established player does.
Of course, every team in the NBA realizes this is a weak draft at #1. Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports recently quoted an NBA GM as saying nobody is worthy of the #1 pick this year. Another GM told Goodman that he wasn’t sure he wanted the top pick. If this line of thinking is pervasive throughout the NBA, then the Cavaliers may have a tough time trading out of the spot.
And that’s where things will get interesting. If Otto Porter really is the player the Cavaliers liked going into the lottery, will Chris Grant pull the trigger on a “reach” at #1 to take a player he might like more? Grant has shown in the past two drafts that he’s confident in his scouting staff and they will take the player that they like, not the player the draft experts think he should take. It served them well in drafting Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, it might serve them well in drafting Otto Porter.
Of course, that philosophy also opens the door to Ben McLemore. Everyone assumes there’s no way the Cavaliers will take him because they took Dion Waiters last year. But Chris Grant took Tristan Thompson when they already had Anderson Varejao. I believe there’s a real chance McLemore is the player the Cavaliers end up taking, using Waiters as high-impact 6th man who can also run the offense when Kyrie Irving is resting. I think if Grant feels McLemore is the best player, he’ll be comfortable with taking him and letting Mike Brown figure out how to make the rotations work.
Speaking of Mike Brown, though, I have to believe that Coach Brown will be begging Chris Grant to take Nerlens Noel. The prospect of having that kind of defensive presence anchoring his system has to have Brown salivating. And ideally, Zydrunas Ilgauskas could be around to help Noel develop some of his offensive game. Drafting Noel is probably the safest move and perhaps the move that makes the most sense overall when you factor in all considerations.
The bottom line is, this isn’t likely to be an easy decision for the Cavaliers. The team has a lot of options and could take this draft in at least 6-7 different directions, depending on trades and valuations. But at the end of the day, this is a great “problem” to have. The Cavaliers alone get to dictate how they want this to play out. They don’t have to see what other teams do in the draft, they don’t have to cross their fingers that their guy is there when they pick. The decision is the Cavs’ and theirs alone. And if they make the right moves with these assets, it will hopefully be a little while before the Cavaliers have to make this kind of decision again. And that’s really the only outcome that matters.
Image Source: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
- I’m not saying he definitely is the best player, just that if Chris Grant feels that he is, then McLemore has to be considered here [↩]