In a nod to the gambling symbolism of the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA draft lottery, it’s almost too cliche to point out the the Cavs hold all the cards as Thursday night approaches. If we take the next step and point out how aggressively the Cavs have been bluffing by bringing in Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Tristan Thompson and just about everyone else who can lace up a pair of shoes for workouts. Kanter has worked out for the Cavaliers twice, the team has floated that they love Irving and Derrick Williams has had a man to man meeting with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. There is so much mystery surrounding the Cavaliers draft that there’s even a chance the they’ll draft undersized combo guard Josh Flagner out of the University of Southern Parma late in the second round. What makes the Cavs #1 pick so infuriating to other NBA GMs is that if the Cavs decide to eschew the safe pick route, they’ll cause either another bonehead move by Timberwolves GM David Kahn or what could be a flurry of trades.
Here’s what the top 5 picks will probably look like if the Cavs pick Kyrie Irving, who’s most teams number #1 player, and there aren’t any top of the board trades:
1) Kyrie Irving PG Duke – Cleveland Cavaliers
2) Derrick Williams PF Arizona – Minnesota Timberwolves
3) Brandon Knight PG Kentucky – Utah Jazz
4) Enes Kanter PF Turkey – Cleveland Cavaliers
5) Jan Vesely PF Czech Republic – Toronto Raptors
I wouldn’t ring any alarm bells with Irving and Kanter, but I’m not sure this scenario is the best one possible for the Cavs. I know that I’m in the minority with my opinion, but I like picking Derrick Williams with the first pick.
Let me explain.
I think that the Cavs taking Williams with the first pick gives the front office the kind of flexibility that it needs to move forward with the rebuilding process. Also, it doesn’t hurt that leaving Kyrie Irving for the Timberwolves at number two is the kind of comedy that only watching David Kahn panic at the prospect of adding a 54th* point guard to the team can produce.
Picking Williams first gives Cleveland the opportunity to package JJ Hickson and the fourth pick in a deal to either move in the draft or to snag a quality player. Its possible to package Hickson no matter who the Cavs pick number one, but without Williams, that package would leave the roster thin at power forward and center, which could conceivably narrow the field of players that we could go after with such a trade.
I still like Williams #1 even if there isn’t a Cavalier trade, because there’s no way that Minnesota can pick Irving, which means good things for Cleveland. With Minnesota sitting on the second pick, Utah offering the third pick and either their 13th pick this year or one of their first rounders from next year to move up to the second pick. Utah has to make an offer to move up because they need to replace Deron Williams with a difference maker at point guard, and there’s no way that Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor can be confident that Minnesota won’t make the Irving pick and trade him to someone else. (Or just make the Irving pick and play him with Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio in a small lineup. Anything is possible with David Kahn.)
So, Cleveland picks Williams and Utah moves to the second pick and takes Irving. After these two picks happen, Minnesota will be picking third and choosing between Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight and Jan Vesely. The Minnesota Timberwolves will pick Enes Kanter third. This scenario actually makes Kahn look like a genius, because he turned a point guard that he didn’t need into an extra pick and Enes Kanter, the perfect big body banger compliment to the up tempo offense that Minnesota wants to run with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.
That leaves the Cavaliers with the fourth pick (remember, this is Cleveland doesn’t make a package trade scenario. There’s no way to tackle each different trade possibility. I still have a day job) and the second best point guard in the draft, Brandon Knight. Knight is a 6’4″ speedster with good range on his jumper, solid defensive capabilities and a big motor. Two contracts into their careers and I’d be surprised if Knight and Irving aren’t on the same level of NBA stardom, so I don’t see Knight being the giant step down that many people think he will be.
This top five will look like this:
1) Derrick Williams PF Arizona – Cleveland Cavaliers
2) Kyrie Irving PG Duke – Utah Jazz
3) Enes Kanter PF Turkey – Minnesota Timberwolves
4) Brandon Knight PG Kentucky – Cleveland Cavaliers
5) Jan Vesely PF Czech Republic – Toronto Raptors**
The real question in this draft isn’t who the best point guard or who the best power forward is, it’s what’s the best combination. I know that Irving is the can’t miss pick, and that if each team only got one player, that Irving would be the guy over Knight, but this draft is different. Derrick Williams and Brandon Knight is a better combination than Kyrie Irving and Enes Kanter.
Williams and Knight are both known for high impact, high motor plays. The kind of hard working, intense players that an organization can build around. Irving and Kanter have played 11 college games between them, all for Irving. Kanter has only played in two meaningful games on American soil, most notably an impressive performance at the Nike Hoops Summit. Frankly, any scenario that ends with the Cavs drafting Enes Kanter would be a lost opportunity. I realize that Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant or Lebron James have played the same number of college games that Kanter has, but I can’t see drafting a guy in the top five based on a fluffed up shoe company tournament game.
No team has had two picks in the top five of the NBA Draft since the 1983 Houston Rockets picked Ralph Sampson #1 and Rodney McCray #3.*** These opportunities don’t come around very often, the Cavaliers need to take advantage of the flexibility that the front office has created by finding the best way to take two of the top three players available by manipulating the needs of the other teams in the top five.
To answer the question, yes, the Cavs should shake up the NBA Draft. Who said manipulation was all bad, anyway?
**The only reason I included Toronto is because “Top 5″ sounds so better than “Top 4″. Jan Vesely is going to be fun to watch in the NBA, but the Raptors are pretty inconsequential in this draft. Or this season. Or probably forever. Sorry Raptors fans.
***The Clippers picked none other than current Cavaliers coach Byron Scott with the fourth pick in the 1983 draft. The SAN DIEGO Clippers. Be sure to mention this to him on the sidelines, but don’t tell him that I’m the person who suggested it to you. He looks scary.