This Tuesday is an important day for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That evening the NBA Draft Lottery takes place, determining the order for the teams possessing the top fifteen picks in the draft. If everything stood as is, the Cavaliers would pick third overall, and according to a plethora of mock drafts, would select Georgetown small forward Otto Porter. While most Cavs fans would love to see this take place, life and the NBA Draft Lottery doesn’t always go according to plan. It’s entirely possible that the Cavaliers could draft fourth, fifth, or even (gasp!) sixth in the upcoming NBA draft. At that point, Porter and Nerlens Noel, reported to be the top two players on the Cavaliers’ draft board, will probably have already been drafted by other teams. Never fear, even if the Cavaliers’ fortunes take this tragic turn, there are many possibilities that could lead to a successful draft night for our favorite team. Here is one scenario that appeals to me.
Assuming that Noel and Porter are off the board, the best pick for the Cavaliers could be Maryland Center Alex Len. If you took the time to read eraulli’s excellent post on Len, you already know that Len is a talented offensive player and underrated defender. ESPN’s Chad Ford has compared Len to former Cavalier Zydrunas Ilgauskas due to his size, rebounding, and ability to score both at the rim and with his midrange game. While there is some question about Len’s drive due to his lack of dominance at Maryland despite his size and skill, much of this can be attributed to Maryland’s poor guard play. Comments from Len, his coaches, and teammates paint a far different picture of his drive. Len also seems like an excellent fit for the Cavaliers for many reasons. He can run the floor well, play the pick and pop and pick and roll with Irving and Waiters, and his offensive and defensive skills both fit well with Tristan Thompson’s as the Cavaliers’ front court of the present and future.
After drafting Len, the Cavaliers can turn their focus to the only position they have not addressed through the draft, small forward. There is no denying that after Porter there is a significant drop at the small forward position. That being said, a realistic option for the Cavaliers could be to package the 19th, 31st, and 33rd picks to move up far enough to draft the one small forward who has been rated above Otto Porter at times this season, Shabazz Muhammad.
As noted by numerous analysts, Muhammad’s draft stock has fallen from potential number one pick to late lottery status over the past year. Currently he is ranked eleventh on Chad Ford’s Big Board and is ranked behind both Porter and Dario Saric at small forward. While Ford still has Muhammad being drafted ahead of Saric in his second mock draft, this could easily change as well. Kevin Pelton also had a pretty harsh assessment of Muhammad when predicting his future WARP (Len didn’t fare well either). Muhammad has been criticized for being a one dimensional scorer and bad teammate, to say nothing of the whole age debacle.
In all fairness to Muhammad, there are plenty of signs he still should be able to be a productive NBA wing. As Tom Ziller wrote, Muhammad seems to have become this year’s Harrison Barnes, a wing who hasn’t lived up to pre-college expectations, isn’t super-efficient, and is therefore overly criticized. While Muhammad isn’t as big or athletic as Barnes, it should be pointed out that Barnes is an athletic player who doesn’t play athletically. In addition, Muhammad could be affected by the "Howland Variable" John Hollinger used in his 2011 draft rater. For those who don’t have ESPN Insider, the basic gist is that Howland’s system doesn’t allow for as much individual success for NBA prospects at UCLA as other systems. Citing the success of players such as Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, and Darren Collison, Hollinger created a variable that was supposed to account for the system and predicts the NBA success for UCLA. Shabazz Muhammad had far more individual success than most UCLA players, and if the Hollinger’s theory is to be believed, he could be better in the NBA than he was in college. Finally, one thing all scouts agree on is Muhammad’s work ethic. He has a reputation as a gym rat with a tremendous motor. His participation in all of the drills at the draft combine shows his willingness to both prove himself, and improve his game.
The question now is how far up the draft do the Cavs have to move to take Muhammad as well as Len? The other lottery teams in need of a small forward are the Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards. For Otto Porter to be off the board, at least one of these teams will have to leapfrog the Cavs in the lottery. You can then assume that Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, and possibly Dario Saric will be drafted before Muhammad, filling the need at the wing for many of these teams. Chances are the Cavs will only have to leapfrog one of these teams with their second pick, if that. If I were Chris Grant, I would start by packaging the 19th, 31st, and 33rd picks in this draft to move up to the spot the Cavaliers need. If more was needed I would consider adding the heavily protected pick of the Sacramento Kings, the 2015 Heat pick, or one of the three second round picks the Cavaliers have the rights to in 2014. I would not include all of these things, the Memphis Grizzlies future first round pick, or the Cavaliers own first round pick.
Well Cavs fans, what do you think? Would Alex Len and Shabazz Muhammad be a great draft for the Cavs if Nerlens Noel and Otto Porter are gone? Should the Cavs trade up for Muhammad? Should they focus on Dario Saric instead? Do they focus on players who have better advanced metrics? Let me know what you would do if you were Chris Grant and the Cleveland Cavaliers.