Draftastic: Part 2-The Reaches

June 22nd, 2009 by John Krolik

My little brother’s on a college trip right now, which brings back horrifying, horrifying memories of when I was applying to colleges back in 2006-07.

(True story that is a complete tangent: me and the basketball coach always used to have long talks about basketball, much of which centered around me being a Cavs fan and the coach being a die-hard Pistons fan-we went back and forth for years. Game 5 happened literally 3 days after graduation. Basically the only thing that stirred up anything approaching bad feelings about that game.)

In any case, the upshot here is that my college counselor had me list out all of my schools and numbered them a 1, a 2, or a 3, with threes being “safety” schools, twos being “50-50 shots”, and ones glibly being called “reaches,” which is college counselor-ian for “Oh, I bet you wish you’d studied harder now, you little twerp. Only way you’re getting in there is with a janitor’s uniform on.”

Throughout the draft and the off-season, we’re going to hear names of possible picks, signings, or trade targets, and like everything else in life, they will fall into three basic categories: safety, 50-50 shot, reach. When discussing off-season matters here at Cavs: The Blog, we’ll try to categorize the topic into the appropriate category. Just a heads-up for the future.

As it’s draft week around my little slice of the internet, we’re going to start things off by looking at some of the guys who would be “reaches” for the Cavs-guys who haven’t been around at 30 in any of the reputable mock drafts, but who the Cavs have allegedly had their eyes on and would be good fits for the team.

There are two reasons why profiling these guys might not be a total waste of time: first, the draft can and will surprise you, and a lot can happen in 29 picks-a team gets euro-happy, a string of teams with a position filled comes along and lets a guy slide, mid-first round promises come into play, and guys can end up slipping a long way. Look at Rashard Lewis getting invited into the Green Room and falling all the way out of the first round, triggering a chain of events that eventually led to him getting sold in a fire sale sign-and-trade due to a planned franchise tank, ending up in Orlando, hitting two game-winning threes, and knocking the Cavs out of the playoffs. (I’ll be fine, eventually. I think.)

Second, there’s the rumor that the Cavs are looking to take advantage of Dan Gilbert’s deep pockets and other teams’ dire financial situation to buy a pick in the mid-to-late teens, like the Celtics did to get Rondo. This rumor has existed basically every draft since Gilbert took over, and seems to be borne more out of wishful thinking than anything else. However, with the financial collapse and the perceived weakness of this draft, this would be the year it would happen, so it’s certainly a possibility.

Here are the main guys, via Windhorst, that the Cavs are allegedly looking to move up to get:

Sam Young, SF/PF, Pittsburgh

This is definitely one of the safest picks that the Cavs could make. Sam Young could step in tomorrow, take Wally’s minutes, and that unit would instantly and noticeably improve. It was actually an effective unit with Wally playing because of just how effective LeBron was at the 4 spot for limited stretches and the fact the “small-ball” unit often caught other team’s benches unprepared.

Young is smart with the ball (although his 1:2.4 ast/TO ratio is troubling), comfortable with the catch-and-shoot, is experienced and has played at a high level, always brings energy on both ends, and perhaps most importantly is a lock-down defender with an insane 6-11 wingspan, replacing the defensive liability that Wally often was.

(Although Wally was underrated defensively this year. I know that basically means he was alive, but he gave a lot of effort on that end and held his ground surprisingly well when guys tried to outmuscle him. He was pretty bad, and worthless against playoff-quality wings, but he tried and made improvements on that end, as teams saw when they tried to exploit him. Although I will miss every opposing broadcaster on League Pass begging their team to take the ball at Wally whenever he was in. I digress.)

With Young, not only can we put LeBron at the 4 in stretches without ruining our defense, but we can keep tabs on the other team’s best perimeter player at all times without gassing LeBron even when Delonte sits. And in the playoffs, it can never hurt to have three stud perimeter defenders against the horrors that the league’s top teams will throw at you.

My qualm with the guy is that this team does need more playmakers around LeBron, and Young is just not going to give that to you at all.

(And while I don’t like to structure all of our off-season moves around a theoretical matchup with the Magic, for reasons I promise I’ll explain, this can’t be ignored: with SF speed and a 6-11 wingspan, this guy is a born Rashard-stopper. That might be in the front offices’ heads.)

Earl Clark, PF, Louisville

Risky. Very, very risky. Defensively, at a skinny 6-9, 220, but with a 7-3 wingspan, this is what the future of the power forward position looks like. Odom, Marion, Rashard, Andy Varejao: post-up power forwards are so rare (even Duncan is clearly a center, and Gasol has played all his significant minutes at center for the last two playoff runs) that what you want out of that position is a guy who can bother outside forwards, show hard to stifle pick-and-roll ball, and keep a body between his man and the basket at all times.

I haven’t seen enough of Clark play to make a definitive statement about his defense, especially because so much of front-line defense is about the mental game. (JJ Hickson is the best shot-blocker on the squad and has the quickest feet of any of our bigs, maybe even more so than Andy, but is easily the worst defender on the frontline because of his propensity for blowing assignments.) But on paper, he looks like a fabulous fit for our defensive system, which is the backbone of the team.

Offensively-gulp. A lot of potential, to be sure. He’s got court vision, handles the ball, and can get his own shot. A frontcourt playmaker around LeBron would be phenominal. And with his great hands, explosion, and ability to play the pick-and-roll, it’s easy to salivate about him throwing down dunks and slashing layups on 3/4 pick-and-rolls all season long.

But if there’s one thing I fear, it’s forwards who aren’t true three-point threats and don’t shoot 50%. Shot creation from the backcourt, efficiency from the frontcourt. Mo or Delonte’s efficiency doesn’t jump up getting an open jumper from a Clark pass the way Clark’s would getting a layup opportunity from a guard’s setup. It’s just a fundamental thing, and something I’ve always really appreciated about Andy is his keen understanding of his own limitations.

Scoring efficiency is like OBP% in baseball prospects-theoretically, it could change with simple shifts in habits, but in practice it rarely happens. There’s a chance Clark’s offense could fall into place with LeBron as his Alpha Dog and the discipline that goes with getting thrown onto an elite-level NBA team, but precedent says it’s more likely he’ll be freestyling out on the perimeter launching low-percentage mid-range shots and turning the ball over while occasionally making a solid pass or layup to keep himself on the floor.

And if we get him, the writing on the wall would seem to be that Andy would be out of town, seeing as to how our frontcourt is pretty crowded and JJ Hickson is our current frontcourt “prospect.” And with how important Andy is, I’d have a tough time getting behind replacing him with a guy that’s not a sure thing. (Interestingly, both Clark and Andy share infamous agent Dan Fegan. That will not be the last time that name gets mentioned on this blog this off-season.) But Clark certainly could be a home-run, and if the Cavs go with him then it’s hopefully because they’ve seen what they needed to see to be sure.

Tywon Lawson, PG, North Carolina

Okay, I love Lawson. I’ve already stated how badly I’d love to see a high-level true point play alongside LeBron, especially a transition-oriented one like Lawson is, even if it’s just as a bench unit. Assuming Varejao gets resigned, I would put a true backup point as our biggest need in this draft.

And Lawson is also, I think, a top-5 guy in this draft. I know he measured badly, and I don’t know what he’s doing in workouts, but his production was just beastly, and his skill-set makes him invaluable in today’s NBA.

Lawson rated #1 overall in John Hollinger’s draft rater, but you don’t need to go to Hollinger’s lengths to find Lawson’s statistics eye-popping:

Not only did he rank #1 in college basketball in assists per 40 minutes and lead one of the most potent offenses in the NCAA, Lawson was an absolutely amazing scoring guard. He put up 16.6 points a game, but more impressive is that he did it with an INSANE TS% of 67%. The leading TS% among point guards in the NBA this season was 61.5%. Of course the pros are harder, but that’s just for some perspective. That TS% was good for 6th in all of college basketball, at any position.

And it was from all over the floor-Lawson shot 56% from two-point range, 47% from three, and 80% from the line. Open or not, shooting 47% from deep is amazing, and when you’re playing with LeBron the ability to knock down catch-and-shoot baskets is an invaluable skill.

And that’s just the numbers-his skills make him even more valuable than those would suggest. He gets far more of his offense in transition than any other player in the NCAA did, often creating the break himself with a steal or rebound, or even on a made basket, a great skill on a team that struggles to get out on the break as much as the Cavs do.

And since hand-check rules came in, blindingly fast guards who can finish inside have been absolutely dominant. Chris Paul. Derrick Rose. Tony Parker. Devin Harris. Rajon Rondo. The list goes on. The problem with guards like Raymond Felton, Mike Conley, and Bassy Telfair is that they can’t finish inside when they get to the rim. Maybe Lawson won’t at the pro level, but all the evidence so far suggests he can. Lawson might be closer to Kyle Lowry (who I think is very underrated) than any of the names I mentioned above, but I don’t think teams have fully gotten wise to the fact hand-check rules make guys as fast as Lawson almost literally unstoppable if he can finish his drives and keep the defense honest.

I know Lawson doesn’t cross-match, and him and Mo is not a feasible defensive backcourt. I don’t really care. First of all, I don’t like when people get hung up on how one lineup would work-there are 35 minutes a game for Lawson that can be found without necessitating him and Mo sharing a backcourt.

Second, he’s so good I don’t really care. Lawson just has too much potential to pass up in the mid-teens-this is shades of Jameer Nelson slipping to 20. I think he has too much potential to pass up a 7, but that’s just me and I’ve certainly been wrong before. Not only does Lawson bring the most legit starting PG credentials possible to the draft, his skills would make him the perfect fit for what ails this team offensively. I know we’re locked into Mo, but the problem of too much talent is a good one to have after a draft with almost no sure things.