While primarily draft-related, let’s start the article addressing other quick topics.
First, the coaching search didn’t proceed exactly as anticipated, but at the end of the day (literally, one day), I feel much better about Mike Brown as Coach than Byron Scott.
Next, regarding the vague whispers of trade-talk, I hope the team stands pat. It seems the storm has been weathered, and next season the wounds begin to heal. I want to see the current core of players lead that charge. Here are five indisputable facts about the 2012 – 2013 Cleveland Cavaliers:
- Kyrie Irving represented the team as the NBA’s youngest All-Star.
- Tristan Thompson turned 22 in March, works tirelessly, and of 72 qualified power forwards last season, he ranked 27th for PER. I won’t be placing even-money bets on multiple All-Star appearances from TT yet, but last season reflected great progress from the second-year forward.
- In the 33 games from January 1st until his injury on March 18th, Dion Waiters averaged twenty-points per thirty-six minutes. His PER climbed to 16.3, his Offensive Rating hit 104, with usage of 26.6 (those numbers thanks to the esteemed Randall Cooper of laughingcavs.com). Once Dion quit routinely hoisting off-balance jumpers and instead persistently attacked, his age-21 performance compares reasonably with several other recent guards**. A list includes: James Harden – 16.4 PER, 119 orating, 19.5 usage; Eric Gordon – 14.1 PER, 107 ORtg, 21.5 usage; Russell Westbrook – 17.8 PER, 105 ORtg, 25.7 usage; Dwyane Wade (age 22) – 17.6 PER, 101 ORtg, 25 usage; Jamal Crawford, 15.3 PER, 102 ORtg, 21.5 usage; J.R. Smith – 15.6 PER, 112 ORtg, 22.8 usage. Not saying he will match all of those guys, but the Dion we saw in 2013 performed admirably.
- The franchise picks top-six in this year’s draft and continues to carry-forward the NBA’s most future draft picks.
- Their salary cap situation is as favorable as any team in the League, with no guaranteed contracts in 2014 – 2015.
Give Mike Brown’s defense one year, stir in 60 games of Varejao, sign four respectable bench players this off-season, and let’s play ball. I want to see these youngsters do work next year.
Certainly in my scenario, the team’s second high-profile addition (after Mike Brown) is the guaranteed top-six pick. So who are my early favorites for the Cavs?
- Nerlens Noel sits atop everyone’s draft board. Big and cat-quick, he is a fierce shot blocker that will play the entirety of his rookie season at 19 years old. Considered an amazing athlete with a great attitude, the only thing more outstanding is his flat-top. Either he or Tristan would need to develop a jumper.
- Here’s the thing about Otto Porter…what are the odds that he is available regardless of where the Cavs pick? Because I have talked myself into some Otto Porter. The two teams with worse records than Cleveland, Charlotte picked MKG last year, and Orlando traded for a 2011 (Tobias Harris) and 2012 (Moe Harkless) first-round small forward. So they are both out of the running, right? There is a 40% chance that a different team jumps all three of these squads. In that scenario, three of the maximum five picks ahead of the Cavs aren’t picking Porter. Draftexpress ranks the Otto-bahn at sixth, and David Thorpe argues for Trey Burke at #1. If Porter was a near-lock to Cleveland in the top-five, I would be stoked. I noted on Friday that Kevin Pelton’s projections consider Porter to be the second-most successful rookie. Turning twenty in June, he is younger than freshmen Ben McLemore and Anthony Bennett. A box-score stuffer, he posted a nightly line of 16 points, almost 3 assists, 7.5 rebounds, 1 block, and nearly 2 steals on 48 / 42 / 78 shooting. Questions abound regarding his ability to be the go-to guy, but Cleveland doesn’t need that anyways. A big, no-nonsense wing that rebounds, moves the ball well (of 94 small forwards in draftexpress’s database, his Pure Point Rating ranks fifth), plays defense, and knocks down jumpers? Yes, please. That is almost the prototype of the small forward to place amongst Irving, Waiters and Thompson.
- Described as a gym-rat, and universally acknowledged as the NCAA’s best-wing defender last year, Victor Oladipo finds himself third on my list. According to draftexpress, nearly two-thirds of Oladipo’s shots come at the rim; his jumpers are typically of the catch-and-shoot variety. Is Tom Crean preaching an all threes and layups diet, or is Oladipo a student of basketball efficiency? Converting 60% of his field goals, the young junior averaged 14 points with an impressive offensive rating of 122 (best on this short-list) on respectable 22% usage. Not a player that creates well off-the-dribble, fortunately like Porter, this isn’t what the Cavs are lacking. A relentless defender that can shut-down the opponent’s best perimeter player, knock down open-shots, and finish spectacularly…checks enough boxes for me.
- Starting here, the Cavs start facing interesting positional dilemmas. Anthony Bennett traditionally gets assigned to power forward, just like our boy Tristan (he’s also Canadian. Are the Canucks going to be an absolute international force in the 2020’s?) A knock on Bennett is his height of 6’ – 7” in shoes. On the bright-side, he is an uber-athlete, capable of handling the ball with both hands, and also knocking-down 38% from long-range. Tallying a 16 & 8, with PER of 28 as a freshman facing a reasonably difficult schedule, if desired, could he pair with Thompson? Would this be the best all-Canadian front-line ever? Can the Cavs sign Tiago Splitter and trot-out an all Brazilian / Canadian front-line next year? I lost focus there…let’s just answer the first question. I say yes; on Wednesday I watched Oklahoma City play a line-up of Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin and Nick Collison. That’s the NBA’s second-best team…playing three point-guards at once…in the playoffs. Teams are pushing boundaries. If Bennett proves his shooting is legit, he and Tristan could play twelve minutes per night together as a small, fast tandem. Given his limited-height and outstanding athleticism, if the team employed a center with passing skills, could Bennett play small forward for twelve minutes a night? In the last five years, the Lakers showed that championships can still be won by “going big”. Anyways, if bad lottery-luck besets the Cavs, snagging Bennett as consolation appeases me.
- I am putting Alex Len at number five, but at this point, I start getting less excited and would have to think about trading down-or-out (edit: or pushing hard to move-up and snag Porter); maybe another team is mega-excited about Trey Burke. The Ukranian Maryland sophomore turns twenty in June. A legitimately long seven-footer, he receives praise for him nimble movement, quick feet, and above-the-rim play. His block rate ranked fourth in the ACC, where he finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds on 57% true shooting. ESPN lists his ceiling as Zydrunas, a 16 & 8 guy and two-time All-Star; also a player with great familiarity in Cleveland. Of course, Len’s floor is Darko Milicic. My concerns begin with a potential lack of aggressiveness from him; his defensive rebounding rate ranks ninth of eleven centers that draftexpress expects to see selected this year. And while his teammates deserve much blame, what sort of top-notch second-year center prospect doesn’t lead his team to the NCAA tourney? Forging towards an exit in the NIT semifinals, Len averaged 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. He needs to keep getting stronger, and if he reaches Ilgauskas’ level, there are certainly worse outcomes from number five picks.
- Going six-deep, and ignoring Trey Burke (don’t need Kyrie’s back-up in the top-five), Ben McLemore assumes the worst-case scenario for Cleveland’s lottery pick. Not that “worst-case” is a bad thing when talking the better-half of the lottery. A gravity-defying highlight factory, he also canned 42% from deep (50 / 42 / 87); his sweet stroke draws comparisons to Ray Allen. Despite this, he draws a rep as not possessing the killer-instinct; over his last six collegiate games in the Big Twelve and NCAA tourneys, he averaged 12 points on 45% from the field, with nine total assists against fifteen turnovers. My inclination is that he is a complimentary player, not a star, and this freshman is only nine months younger than Oladipo, a junior. On offense and defense, a reasonable goal for McLemore would be to reach Oladipo’s level in nine months…hence, the Hoosier at #3 and the Jayhawk at #6.
That’s it for today. Hopefully the Cavs can pick Porter in June, sign-up a solid bench in July, then start rolling in October.
** – In 2011, Basketball-reference published an article equating offensive rating with usage. Based on that research, and normalizing each of these shooting guards to 25 usage, their respective Offensive Ratings at age 21 were: Harden, 113; Smith, 110; Westbrook, 105.5; Waiters, 105 (after January 1); Gordon, 1o3.5; Wade, 101; Crawford, 98.5. Waiters needs to keep working on his shot, his body / explosiveness, and watching a lot of tape of himself while off-the-ball on offense & defense. And he will be just fine.