Much has been made of the Cavaliers inability to guard last season, and rightfully so. It was a dumpster fire. Everyone likes to use Kyrie Irving's defense as a fun thing to harp on (for reasons that are near unfathomable to me), but Dion Waiters and the rest of the wings weren't effective guarding the perimeter either. Adding a center to reduce the amount of uncontested layups would be one step forward, but you need sound perimeter defending, if only to reduce the number of open three pointers. Believe it or not, Irving and Waiters still project as plus defenders for their respective positions; I have particularly high hopes for Dion. Adding a coach like Mike Brown who both understands and can teach a defensive system should lead to steps forward from both.
Still, a gaping hole at small forward remains. Irving and Waiters have shown great potential creating offense, and it has already earned Irving an All Star bid. Waiters has a bit more ground to cover before becoming a really good NBA player, but the athleticism and work ethic appear to be there. Watching the NBA playoffs, you can see the value of having several players who can create offense; the Knicks go from average to excellent depending on whether or not Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith decide they want to stay within themselves. Say what you want about Jarrett Jack, but I really think he is helpful to Stephen Curry. It took Dwyane Wade and LeBron James some time, but when Wade is healthy and the two of them are clicking their offense is really special. So what would the perfect small forward look like for Cleveland, keeping in mind you want him to compliment Irving and Waiters? He would have excellent length, a great motor, work hard, be physically imposing and athletic, have the ability to make three pointers without having to create them for himself, stay within himself and not try to do too much, and pride himself on his defense. That player might exist in the form of Victor Oladipo.
This isn't going to be a traditional scouting post on Oladipo; Sam already did a fantastic job of that a short time ago. What this is an argument: If Nerlens Noel is off the board and Victor Oladipo is on it when the Cavaliers turn to make a selection comes around, the Hoosier should be Chris Grant's selection. Some of you know that I coach high school debate, so I am going to use some complex terminology from our activity to help me make my case. There are two types of arguments a debater can make, offensive ones and defensive ones. To use an example, a few years ago my kids' case argued that invading North Korea was a good idea and that the United States should do it. We offered offensive reasons for doing this; it would stop Kim Jong Il (the now deceased dictator) from doing terrible things to his own people. We also offered defensive reasons for why this was good; the North Korean military is weak, and the effects of a war wouldn't be that bad. Let's apply these basic principles to Oladipo.
First, my offense
Oladipo is not an offensive juggernaut, but he has the potential to be an outstanding offensive player, and it shouldn't take him long to find a role. Of Draft Express' Top 100 prospects, not a single one had a higher effective field goal percentage than Oladipo. He doesn't force a thing. He plays with a non-stop motor and loves to get out in transition. 13.6 points per game on 8.4 shot attempts is outstanding. A 21% three point shooter a year ago, he got that all the way up to 44% this season, a larger improvement than even Otto Porter. He is an excellent rebounder both offensively and defensively, and would represent a massive upgrade in this regard over Alonzo Gee almost immediately. 74% of his jump shots this season were in catch and shoot situations, an indication that he understands his own limitations. He is effective attacking the basket and can finish once he gets there. Despite playing three college seasons he is young for his age and turned 21 just a couple weeks ago. There is significant room for offensive growth.
But you aren't necessarily drafting Oladipo for his offense. He is a high energy guy who uses his length and strength to wreak havoc defensively. The combine will be interesting to see just what kind of length Oladipo really has. In his piece, Sam notes that it is likely somewhere between 6'8 and 6'11. Oladipo guarded four positions in college, and will be able to guard three in the NBA. He has the athleticism and strength to bother NBA point guards, and he won't be bullied by small forwards. He won't expend a lot of energy offensively and can guard the other team's best perimeter option. There aren't many teams who have multiple perimeter stars, so Oladipo allows you to hide Irving or Waiters should you choose to do so.
Second, my defense
No, his height isn't ideal. But how many small forwards in the NBA will really be able to take advantage? Kevin Durant will be able to shoot over the top of Oladipo; Kevin Durant shoots over the top of every player who tries to guard him. His strength could keep Durant in check, somewhat. He is the same height as Alonzo Gee who has spent the last two years guarding small forwards, and while Gee isn't the defensive stopper we all want him to be, how many times is this a result of his height? Not often, I don't think.
"But David," I hear you say, "I have heard that Otto Porter is a perfect fit." Porter will probably be a fine player; like Oladipo he made a lot of progress this season, and his length is tantalizing. He isn't, however, a great athlete. His shot has a hitch which could present problems; the cleaner a shot is, the easier it is to repeat success. He is also thin, and will need to bulk up so that he isn't bullied by small forwards. He lacks the versatility Oladipo will have to guard multiple positions. Draft Express has Oladipo as the 4th best prospect in the draft, and Porter at 6. Oladipo has an athleticism and upside that Porter doesn't have access to. At the same time, Oladipo has a higher floor as an excellent situational defender. If the Cavaliers needed more offense from the 3 position, my mind might change.
Some of you may think the Cavaliers need to take a player like Alex Len if Noel isn't available. I am sympathetic to this point, though I can't agree. Anderson Varejao will be healthy for training camp, and the Cavaliers can use their 19th pick on a guy like Steven Adams that they can develop. Varejao can act as a bridge. It also makes filling the hole at center less imperative than finally finding a small forward. Signing someone like Samuel Dalembert and going into next season with Varejao, Tyler Zeller, Dalembert and a project big would be a fine strategy. There isn't a need to force a pick on Alex Len. Oladipo can make a more immediate impact, and we know the Cavs want to win now.
Victor Oladipo immediately improves the Cavaliers perimeter defense, and gives Cleveland a foundation at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward that the league would envy. The athleticism of Irving, Waiters, and Oladipo would put serious pressure on opposing teams from the get-go. There isn't a lot of height there, but the league is getting smaller. He is by all accounts a hard worker and great kid. It would be fun to watch him grow in the Wine & Gold.