In elementary school, my favorite books were the “choose your own adventure” ones. I enjoyed being able to exercise limited creativity by picking the end of my Goosebumps book. Just going through the door on the right could land you in a locked room with some creepy dolls moving slowly towards you to hold your hand. Ringing the doorbell to the door on your left could lead you to tea with an older woman that needs friendship. I’m not sure what’s worse.
Getting the top pick has set up the Cavs with a wonderful “choose your own adventure” situation. The team has the opportunity to take the Jabari Parker path, the Joel Embiid path, or the Andrew Wiggins path. Each one leads to a new room: some rooms are dark and dreary filled with first round playoff exits, others are bright from the shining gold of Larry O’Brien trophies.
The Jabari Parker Path (Eighth Seed Forever)
Jabari Parker is probably the most NBA ready player in this draft. He could come into the league and average 14-18 points a night for the Cavs while adding a few assists and four or five rebounds. However, he isn’t going to be doing this through his elite athleticism. It’s going to be all intelligence and trying very hard. Even during college, he was still using his IQ to score. NBADRAFT.net throws around words such as “polish” and phrases such as “Remarkably advanced basketball IQ” to describe his game.
Needless to say, he would help the Cavs immediately at a position that has a backlog of players not developing quickly. In the long run, his growth is only going to be in the scoring department, and as soon as his limited body goes, he is going to have to fight even harder to score. If the Cavs draft Parker, it is saying two things.
The team wants to be the 8th seed now and the team believes Kyrie Irving is going to be a big part of the future. The team with Parker is going to be like the Detroit Pistons. Jabari Parker is Josh Smith (presumably with better shot selection and less athleticism), while Kyrie Irving is Brandon Jennings. Look at the turnovers and assists for both players being at 2.7 and under eight respectively. That isn’t very reassuring.
The worst part about that team is that the Cavs don’t have a big man like Andre Drummond to help with blown defensive assignments.
Cleveland would also become the ultimate isolation team. Kyrie, Dion Waiters, and Jabari would be calling for the ball at all times to clear the floor out for a drive or a shot. They’d be racing towards the ball like it was the start of an XFL game.
Also, you may have noticed, above, that I didn’t even mention trading the pick as a potential path. Trading the pick is the same as getting Jabari Parker. Both choices make you turn to page 139 which reads, The team gets an immediate impact player, but you are not building anything that is sustainable or going to lead to title success. After three years of losing in the first round of the playoffs, Dan Gilbert fires you as GM. You return to Scottsdale to open a chain of gelato parlors. Still, an 8th seed is better than what the team has now.
The Andrew Wiggins Path (Descending Seeds For The Next Several Years)
The Andrew Wiggins path is a bright path in the book. Andrew Wiggins doesn’t need the ball, is an elite athlete, runs the floor, and will be a lock down defender. He could play well with Dion and Kyrie by getting transition points and cutting to the basket for easy layups. On the Cavs, I imagine him as a Luol Deng like figure that has the constant movement Deng could only exhibit sporadically. Wiggins still has to learn how to dribble and play more of a ball-dominant style, but it’s something that will probably happen. Look how much Paul George has developed. And George is a player that is an inch taller than Wiggins at six-foot-nine but has a similar wing span at six-foot-11.25.
Wiggins is going to come in and pack the box score having nights with 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He’ll be the type of player that has all of his points without dribbling, just thunderous dunks in the lane from cutting. He’ll also be the guy that wins a lot of games, but you wouldn’t know it just watching him. Once he learns how to dribble, overcomes his supposed timidness, and wants to be the man, he will up his scoring and could be an impact player on the level of LeBron James.
This choice for the Cavs tells me that they are committed to gradual, but continual growth. Would the Cavs have what it takes to win in the playoffs with Wiggins and Irving in the next four years? I don’t know, but letting Wiggins develop and signing solid players is going to make the team a contender every night. Wiggins will be able to help the whole team improve by locking down troublesome opponents, not requiring the ball, and giving the Cavs extra possessions. Irving and Waiters will love his hustle and the option to get easy assists to pad their stats.
This choice leads to page 189: Dan Gilbert calls you into his office and says, “We were the seventh seed last year. We’re the sixth seed this year, and Wiggins is averaging 15 points a game instead of 12. We haven’t blown any 10-plus point leads in the last five minutes this season, but I still need more.” You respond, “This is a process, partner, and we will not trade for any one year rentals. We’re gonna be relevant from now until forever. Damn it.” You pound the table, put your cowboy hat on, and prepare to draft another supporting cast member to help Wiggins develop.
The Joel Embiid Path (The Cavs First Title And Spurning of LeBron)
The more I think about this path, the more I know that taking Embiid, if the medical checks pan out, is the best option. Joel Embiid actually makes me feel like Bilbo Baggins when he stumbles into the gold room of Smaug. I’m terrified things may not work out, but secretly delighted that the outcome may be so amazing. Embiid would bring an immediate defensive shot blocker to the team and raise the defense considerably without the team having to pack the paint and give up threes. He’s also quick enough to be a pick-and-roll partner for Kyrie.
I predict Embiid comes to the team and averages nine points to go with 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He’ll also average at least one, “Oh man, is he human,” highlight a game when he dunks from the foul line over half a team. His biggest impediment to averaging more early on is fouling. He averaged 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes during college.
The Embiid Path says the Cavs want to win now while building towards the future quickly. Embiid could pair well with Kyrie Irving and will improve the team enough to make the playoffs next year as an eighth seed. However, when he matures and becomes the next Dwight Howard, a player you can just surround with shooters, he is going to be a walking title machine. The big guy has only been playing organized basketball for three years. Another few years is only going to help him become more dominant. Everyone on the Cavs will love him because when they mess up on defense they just get the ball swatted back to them for an easy rebound.
This team could quickly look like the Magic that went to the finals in 2009 with one man inside surrounded by four shooters. If the team could reach this point early on as far as playing style goes, they would be a handful in the next few years. Would the Magic have won the finals if they were starting Kyrie Irving instead of Ralfer Alston? I think so, and that’s what the Cavs are destined to do with Embiid.
Picking Embiid leads to page 240: One year removed from drafting Embiid, walking into a press conference, after a 2nd round playoff win in game four against Miami to tie the series at 2-2, a reporter asks you, “Did you ever think they would make a rule that Joel Embiid and Matty D can’t be on the floor at the same time because they are too suffocating? But seriously, in the second quarter, you held the Heat to nine points. How?” That offseason LeBron decides to come back to Cleveland, but Dan Gilbert waves a new letter in front of him and says, “No, LeBron, we won’t be second choice.” You sign LeBron four days later and everyone forgets about the letter.
There is a bonus adventure in choosing the Embiid Path: Tristan Thompson becomes a bench player or learns how to shoot enough to somewhat spread the floor with Embiid. If you flip to page 300 where Thompson develops a jumper to play with Emibiid being only in the post, it simply says, Try again, don’t stop world class talent from developing a jump shot. Your path is clear.