Top Pick Debate: No Clear Answer, But Several Theories To Rule Out

porterOver the last couple weeks, I’ve been camped out in the Cavalier NBA Draft Film Room. I’ve covered Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter, Ben McLemore, Alex Len, and Victor Oladipo Friday. Anthony Bennett is still to come later this week. Over that time, we’ve had a lot of good discussion here at the site about who your favorite to grab with the top pick is and why. It’s not so much the “who” that interests me today as much as the “why”. The reasons for taking a guy at the top spot run the gamut from fit to potential to floors to ceilings to immediate impact and so on and so forth. Let’s examine some of the more common thoughts processes going around the web right now.

First, there’s the notion that you rule a player out because he can’t help you the most this season. I think most people can understand that this one is pretty absurd as a standalone argument. Dan and Nick Gilbert may have made a proclamation about not being back at the draft lottery next season, but I don’t think that will force them to take the wrong guy simply for short term gratification.  However, I DO think that with Mike Brown back to put the emphasis on defending along with the continued improvement from the young core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson coupled with the return of Anderson Varejao and the likely addition of some veteran bench pieces via free agency, that the team SHOULD expect to make the playoffs this season. I don’t think many have any surreal visions of being in the conference finals next year, but should they be able to win 38 or 40 games to sneak in as the eight seed next year? Why not? This team, when it was going good last season, was 15-15 over a thirty game stretch. The notion that such a “plan” rules out Nerlens Noel as the top selection is ludicrous. Noel may not be at the top of my board, but him not being available until Christmas has nothing to do with that.

Next, there’s the idea of avoiding a player because of position alone. The idea that Anthony Bennett (because of Tristan Thompson) plus Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore (Dion Waiters) are undraftable couldn’t be further from the truth. While I do hope that both Dion and Tristan are part of the core going forward, excluding the All-Star and virtually untouchable Kyrie Irving, who has the point guard spot locked down (sorry, Trey Burke), you take the guy that after all your talent evaluation, risk assessment, and player interviews that is the best fit for the Cleveland Cavaliers. If they take Bennett, you assess whether there are enough minutes to split between the two while Tristan perhaps plays some center in small lineups (this one is admittedly a tough sell) or you trade Tristan if Bennett is going to be that much more of an impact player. With McLemore and Oladipo, as I’ve discussed in each of their film rooms, I definitely think there’s more wiggle room for playing one of them in a three-guard lineup with Irving and Waiters. For one, we know that the Cavaliers played Dion at backup point for stretches last year, and it’s frankly one of his selling points and strengths (having the ball in his hands). If he’s your exclusive backup point (or primary backup point at least), you figure that’s about 12 minutes a game given Irving’s usual minutes. So, before any small ball, that gives you this breakdown.

Irving – 36
Waiters – 30 (12 at point, 18 at SG)
McLemore/Oladipo – 30 (all at SG)

If Dion doesn’t prove to be the backup point, you always have the option of small ball as well, playing McLemore or Oladipo at the small forward position. I do think this is easier with Oladipo (6’9 1/4″ wingspan, 213 lbs.) than McLemore (6′ 7 3/4″ wingspan, 189 lbs.), but we see small ball all the time in the league. Stealing 6-10 minutes a game in this configuration is easily done in my mind. It just goes to show the minutes are there if you look hard enough and McLemore or Oladipo is the guy to take.

Then, there’s picking a guy EXCLUSIVELY because he has either the highest ceiling or highest floor. This couldn’t be more short-sighted. To me, the best way I can quantify this into words is you have to take the guy with the BEST chance of being the BEST player. I don’t think too many people are arguing that Noel’s ceiling is the highest, but with his injuries and positional uncertainty, he’s far from the safest bet. What are the chances that he becomes a shot-blocking force at the center position and stays healthy? 40 percent? 50 percent? Victor Oladipo is probably a Tony Allen-type worst-case as a one-dimensional player, and I would argue that he has the highest floor by a small margin over Otto Porter. But, many would argue that he has the lowest chance of becoming a true All-Star caliber player. I can understand that statement, and I would tend to agree with it.

Ultimately, when I think about who I ultimately want the Cavaliers to take, I imagine it as if I had an allotment of electoral votes. If you gave me 100 of them, I would probably split them between five guys: Noel, Oladipo, Porter, Len, and McLemore. With all five of these guys, given a good explanation and assurances they did their homework on areas of concern with each of these guys after the draft, I’m not really going to be upset with whoever it is. Here’s how I’d allot my votes as of right now.



When I take into account fit for this team, both initially and going forward, impact at both ends of the floor, and a guy having the best chance to be the best player, I end up taking Otto Porter, and I know that I’m in the increasing minority there. All of these draft apples have bruises, though. McLemore may disappear at the next level and not look for his own shot enough. Noel will have to start at power forward and he has serious injury concerns. Len has a stress fracture in his foot, and he didn’t flash great numbers in college. Oladipo’s offensive game could’ve been a bit of a mirage last season, and he may not develop the type of offensive game you want for your shooting guard. Porter’s concerns generally lie in him being a nice player but not a star, as well as a lack of lateral quickness.

Whoever the Cavaliers take, I think they will keep us guessing up until the final moments before the draft. I also think fans will ultimately be surprised at how good of a player the Cavaliers will get for their core, given the melancholy outlook of this draft class.

(Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)


  • daniel

    Nice piece, I have ruled out drafting a 2 up until seeing how we could split the minutes. honestly I really like having Dion play the back up point, it fills a need we have and gets the ball in his hands which is a strength of his. I could see us taking dipo now, even though noel is still my first choice, provided he will fully recover, with Otto close behind. And like you stated, I will be happy with whoever we pick, we owe at least that much respect to cg

  • Harv 21

    Re that it’s “patently absurd” that they shy away from a player because he is unavailable/limited this season, I disagree. It’s not about the playoffs. It’s that 2013-2014 may be the key to Grant’s future. If Grant knows he has to defend his roster product at the end of his fourth season, he knows that picking Noel means Noel first appears in January without the experience of training camp or exhibition games, way out of playing shape, undersized and certainly limited physically at first. And that’s if the injury recovery proceeds well. If the recovery does not proceed well, or if re-injury occurs, Grant looks like a putz for taking that risk on #1 overall. Whether he takes Noel or not, how can Grant not be influenced by these possibilities?

    I watched the Draft Express on Porter again, to see why so many think he’s not going to be a very significant impact NBA player. Still don’t get it. I think he’s perfect fit to mesh with Kyrie and Dion, moving without the ball and hitting cutters. The defense is a given. It’s almost like we shouldn’t get the best player for us because we were cursed with the #1, and there’s a rule we gotta go with the boom or bust guy at #1.

  • Lee Nicholas

    I think the notion that it’s ‘playoffs or gone’ for Chris Grant is a little overblown. Obviously Gilbert and company are pushing for the playoffs, as they should be, but Gilbert is also a bit more reasonable than that I think, particularly if the team shows vast improvement. If we just miss the playoffs, but see our team develop into a mediocre defensive team (that’d be a big jump), the young players improve (again, especially defensively), and whoever he picks at #1 shows promise, then he’ll be safe. I recently heard him say on the Really Big Show that firing Mike Brown as a knee-jerk reaction was a mistake. Now if Grant’s #1 pick is a clear bust or the team regresses in some way, then its entirely possible….

  • JNeids

    “It’s almost like we shouldn’t get the best player for us because we were cursed with the #1, and there’s a rule we gotta go with the boom or bust guy at #1.”

    This, 1,000x this. This ridiculous stigma that is attached to the #1 pick is just that: ridiculous. Too many people think that if the #1 pick isn’t a game-changing franchise player than the pick is automatically a bust. God forbid we get the perfect complement player to what we already have who just happens to be the greatest area of need, but if he HELPS us win a championship instead of LEADING us there, the #1 pick was a waste.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    I think that if we draft Porter…and he becomes a very good player…but Noel becomes an All-star…it’s a bit of a bust.

    I think that if we draft Noel and he gets injured and his career ends due to injuries…it’s a bust.

    I prefer Noel…because I don’t believe (long term) he’s any more of an injury risk than most other players (and less so than several.) I would be OK with the Cavs taking Porter. Anybody else…and I’m instantly skeptical.

  • JNeids

    Your second paragraph is obvious, but I disagree with your first. You can’t assume that just because a player goes on to excel elsewhere that he would have had the same success here (oh hey Danny Green, didn’t see you over ther). Again, if our #1 pick is an integral part in us winning a championship but not THE reason, that’s perfectly fine. Everyone wants the #1 pick to be an INDIVIDUAL home run, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to team success (I’m staring right at you, Melo). Gimme title team filler over stat stuffer any day.

  • WFNYKirk

    Well said, Harv. I don’t get it either re: Porter.

    As for the Grant pressure, I just think that he has more time for this to play itself out. It’s Dion and Tristan that need to make the strides to save his job and get this team into the playoffs, if that is truly the scenario.

  • WFNYKirk

    I disagree with item one. It may not end up being the best selection and a disappointment, but I don’t think he word “bust” applies if the other guy has a good, productive NBA career for your team.

  • mgbode

    the defense is a given with Oladipo and probably Noel (if used properly).

    not so much with Porter. those feet are a bit slow to defend on the perimeter and all rookies struggle with the post at first (though he does look to have some strength).

    it’s one of the concerns with him.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    I think that if both Porter and Noel become All-Star, then it’s not a bust. But if you take a good player over an All-Star…you (as a GM) have “busted” your pick. It’s a perception issue in regards to that specific pick. Just like some claim that Oden was a bust. Even if he was the right pick at the time for that team. (Or Portland passing on Michael Jordan…that was the right move for that team.)

  • Ben Frambaugh

    As stated above, it’s about the perception of the pick. It’ll be considered a bust pick if we don’t get it right. It’s one thing for a guy who was never considered to be in contention for the #1 overall (a la Danny Green) to go on and have success…but think about the whole “Michael Jordan to Portland” thing. Portland made the right pick at that time (because MJ didn’t have a place on that team) and anybody else that they could have taken would have either played a position of an established starter or wasn’t really considered worthy of the #2 pick.

    If we take Porter (because Grant believes it’s the right decision at this time) and it turns out Noel is a stud, and Porter really does go on to become a Granger/Deng/Prince type of player, the pick will be called a bust.

    I’m not saying that drafting Porter is the wrong choice. I’m not saying that Noel is the only choice (he is my favored choice)…I’m saying that perception is reality…and I am glad I’m not Chris Grant. 😉

  • It’s a fair point. We’ll have to agree to disagree about the use of the term “bust”. I think wrong selection is the more accurate term in that scenario.

    And the Jordan/Portland thing is a perfect example of why I wrote this.

  • scott

    If Grant can ONLY speak of his draft picks at the end of his fourth season, then he has already failed. Building through the draft is great, but the Cavs often speak of “the assets” they have acquired. Time to make a big splash – even if its a risky one. If he’s gonna go down, at least he [Grant] should go down swinging.

  • Harv 21

    If Noel stays healthy I agree he’ll be a defensive force – he’ll make
    drives into the paint tentative – but think he’ll have a more difficulty
    guarding centers than Porter will small forwards. Noel was pushed
    around in the block by college centers.

    Disagree about Porter’s “slow feet.” This micro analysis before every draft obscures whether the guy actually effectively defends. I’m starting to doubt the wisdom of the trend of evaluating players as nothing more than a separately graded individual skills. Can’t imagine where small forward Larry Bird would be predicted to go if mock drafts based on this was used in 1978. Some guys, like Bird, are just ballers. Porter looks like one to me.

  • Harv 21

    Melo is a perfect example of what you describe.

    Grant has to be tying himself in knots right now war-gaming various deals. He always has his own opinion of who he wants, and if it’s someone unexpected this is a hard draft to figure out which potential trade partner with their own high pick might covet the top pick, and why.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Agreed… I definitely think that the biggest reason Gilbert and son said what they did about pushing for the playoffs this season and not wanting to be in the lottery again was for Kyrie Irving’s ears. He’s their All-Star and they want to keep him in Cleveland after his rookie contract is over, so they need to show him that they’re committed to winning now or else they risk losing him to the next party in South Beach (or wherever else). My opinions aside, that doesn’t mean they can’t take Noel, but it does mean that they need to do something in free agency or via trade if they do draft Noel.

  • mgbode

    Bird was one of the most hyped prospects of his era and put Indiana State on his back and pulled them into a championship showdown with Magic’s Spartans. I’m pretty sure he would have been very, very high on everyone’s list (also helping is that those guys all played 3-4 years in college and were pretty much developed. we are guessing much more now).

    I like Otto’s play, but he just doesn’t have the elite athleticism for this next level. He has good length, he has a good motor. His 3pter could develop into a reliable weapon. But, he’s not going to be a lockdown perimeter defender IMO. He’s just not quick enough for that title. And, he has virtually no hops in games. He was a floor player, which likely means he struggles to finish at the next level too.

    But, I can also see Porter being our selection.

    (1) Len & Noel’s injury reports significantly scare us off.
    (2) When evaluating Otto v. Oladipo, our FO believes that Otto’s form and maturation on 3pt shooting is further than Oladipo’s separation on defense (especially when considering the length & likely position).

    I just hope that if we do draft Otto, then it is after a trade-down where we get another asset or two we can use to obtain a veteran in a trade (not necessarily with the pick itself).

  • Harv 21

    Glad I’m not Grant this month, but if I were the only way I could approach this is: 1) Figure out if there’s anyone this org must have. Take him, even with the first pick, if you can’t craft a deal which insures he’s still there at the position you might trade into. 2) If you have no such guy or assign equal reward/risk to multiple players, work now to bid teams against each other. 3) Either way, deal your extra picks before draft day if you have no deal in place to move down from #1/up from #19. Since there’s no way you’re heading into camp with four more 20 year-olds, don’t put yourself in a desperate draft day position of giving away the second rounders for future seconds, or taking 2 “freakishly athletic” guys from the Congo without birth certificates who just need a few years in the African league to stop instinctively kicking and heading the ball.

  • mgbode

    hey, hey now. Giannis was born in Athens and has been living in Greece nearly his whole life. His parents were just of Nigerian descent. He should be okay as far as the instincts and a worthy stash (unlike Congo native Eyenga).

    agree that we need to be looking to flip some of these assets though. be interesting what we do.

  • Natedawg86

    Can we draft Danny Green again?

  • mgbode

    1 win away from NBA Finals MVP Danny Green

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Forget the Africans… more Macvans please!

  • Natedawg86

    Leonard and Cole sure do look good out there. Need to find someone like that with our mid first!

  • Harv 21

    agree. Everything seems to point to a pre-draft or draft day trade for a veteran or two. With the Cavs cap room, current picks and future accumulated picks they should be able to get a very good if overpriced player. If Grant keeps accumulating assets for their own sake he’ll be a tv analyst soon.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I share his surname and that’s probably part of it, but I’ve got a big boy crush on Kawhi Leonard. Guys who know their roles and give maximum effort in that role like he does are such a rarity in the NBA. You can always find guys who want to put up shots, but it’s so rare to find a guy who is young and yet willing to accept the fact that he’s never going to be a high-salary guy in the NBA (comparatively).

  • #allswaggedup

    Take Oladipo for his great defense and we saw little sparks of good offense last year so we can develop him with a trade for a veteran such as paul pierce will give you another year to find a good small forward hint, hint Lebron James with your 20 million in cap space.