Over 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)