The Cleveland Cavaliers won the ping-pong ball lottery last night, giving them the rights to the first overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. Combined with the 4th pick the Cavs obtained in the Baron Davis trade, that puts Cleveland in an envious position to retool their roster following Lebron James’ departure to Miami. The day-after conventional wisdom from those “in the know” is that Duke point guard Kyrie Irving is the “no-brainer” choice for the Cavs at number one. Consider me lobotomized because I believe the Cavaliers would be wasting a pick on Irving.
Before I begin my argument, regular readers of this site know my affinity for Kentucky basketball, and thus my distaste for all things Duke. I plead guilty to both charges. That said, my personal biases have nothing to do with my argument in this case. If anything, as a Pacers fan, I’d love to see Cleveland botch this golden opportunity. What I propose is simply the smartest thing the Cavs could do in this situation.
This year’s draft class is extremely weak. There are really only four players whom scouts consider “can’t miss” projects and both are at foundational positions. Irving and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight are high-profile freshman point guards and Enes Kanter and Arizona’s Derrick Williams are franchise power forwards. If Cleveland takes Irving as their point guard with the first pick, it’s all but guaranteed Minnesota and Utah would snatch up Kanter and Williams with the second and third picks, leaving the Cavs to either select Knight as the best player available or dip into the rest of the talent which is significantly less than the first four.
If the Cavs are smart, they’ll take Kanter or Williams with the first pick. Either Minnesota or Utah will take Irving and the other will snatch up the remaining power forward leaving Brandon Knight available for Cleveland at number four. This would ensure the Cavs get two starters to help in their rebuilding process. Additionally, Knight and Kanter together would be advantageous as they were “teammates” of a sort this year. Though the NCAA ruled Kanter ineligible, he worked out with the Kentucky team as a student manager all season. Their familiarity with one another could help ease their transitions into the league.
Also, Irving missed most of this season with a foot injury. He has an incomplete body of work at the collegiate level and the Cavs should take heed drafting a player with a history of foot injuries (see Oden, Bowie, and Walton).
Cleveland has a unique opportunity to rebuild quickly after losing the face of their franchise and hope for the future. If they’re wise, they’ll ignore conventional wisdom and put them into a position to maximize the value of the two picks they have this year.