Nerlens Noel: The Choice By Default? The Cavs Tough Call and the Decisions to Follow
|Kentucky's Nerlens Noel is predicted to be the Overall No. 1 selection by the Cavs|
By: Jason T. Davis @WisdomOfSports
If you're an NBA fan and you're not a fan of the NBA draft, I feel sorry for you. Now even I understand not everyone wanting to sit through the tedious event on television. I also understand that most viewers don't even know the names being selected, but that's not the point. The point is that despite one's knowledge of names or aspirations to sit through roughly 4-6 hours of drafting, we should all be fans of seeing young men achieving their goals and fresh new stars entering the league. This time of year is like Christmas to a hoops fan. You get to watch the playoffs/NBA Finals, and you get to witness the culmination of this years crop of youngsters enter the league you so love. For a fan of basketball, it's pure elation. For a fan of a specific team? It can end up as pure agony, but it begins as pure joy.
For that one night, everything is still unknown. Every pick Could be an All-Star, every second rounder a sleeper. There's so much optimism and excitement in the air before anything has even had time to settle. The teams holding the higher picks always have more to think about. They're losing teams. They desperately need to find the diamond amongst the pebbles. There's still no true way of knowing. There's no algorithm that will solve the questions surrounding a pro prospect. There's only the gusto to pull the trigger. In just a few short weeks all the NBA teams will be rolling the dice on whomever they perceive to be their guy, but eyes are on one team in particular. That would be the Cavaliers and their No. 1 pick.
In a year without a true No. 1 choice, the Cavs must rely solely on their gut and analysis. No Rose, no Griffin, no Yao, NO LEBRON. This one will go down as a memorable one in my eyes and for the Cavs sake, I hope it's remembered as a fantastic decision on their part. One which will have moved the franchise forward for a long time. Now the question is who? Who will they take in this giant question mark of a draft?
We all know what the draft is. A guessing game. A gambling man's game. It's a crap shoot and when it goes wrong, it can set a franchise back years, even decades(Greg Oden over Durant, Josh Childress over Deng, Darko over Melo/Wade/Bosh, Marvin Williams over CP3/D-Willy). When it goes right? It can define a franchise and at times even build up a city(Durant/Oklahoma City, Duncan/San Antonio, Shaq/Orlando, Lebron/Cleveland, Jordan/Chicago). The list of the bulls-eyes and busts are as long and tedious as the draft process itself. Having the overall number one pick in a year of complete unknown only makes the stress of getting the right guy even higher. But remember, fans don't need you to grab the most popular pick, they need you to make the right pick. That however, is a very difficult thing to do. The Cavs have a history of doing it right, but those were relatively easy options.
The Cavs had pretty clear choices in their two most recent No. 1 selections. Lebron was a specimen
|Irving and Waiter lead the Cavs talented young Crew, along with Thompson|
the NBA had not seen before and was a guaranteed lock at No. 1 in his Junior year of high school. It was a no-brainer and changed the entire city, especially financially. Kyrie, on the other hand, did have some questions around him, but for the most part was a lock as well. There were questions as to how good he could really be and how he'd hold up physically. Could he be on the CP3 level? That was the hope. Turns out, he has a lot more offensively to offer than CP3 even does. The kid's a star. The concerns over his health and ability to withhold a long NBA season were somewhat fair. After all, he did break a bone in his foot and sat the rest of the Duke season before coming back for the tourney to play a couple games. That draft class, at the top, looked weak though. He was clearly ready to at least lead an NBA team and the Cavs needed a PG and leadership regardless. Luckily for them, they got much more than a 'game-manager.'
This year? The Cavs will have scrutiny no matter what route they take. They have a very difficult and defining choice in front of them. There is no clear-cut guy this time. It's obviously more of a gamble than most years and the Cavs, like they've done in recent history, will have to pull the risky trigger on someone that night. Good news? They are one franchise that is not scared to go with their gut.
Cavs and the Common Draft Speculation
The Cavs have a huge decision to make, bigger than most years. I know they may be listening to trade offers, but who doesn't listen? I don't hear that they're listening too closely though. Obviously I could be wrong, but it's my opinion that they will keep the pick and grab a young player. The Cavs seem inclined to build with young talent, and in this years uncertain draft, most teams are not interested in giving up proven assets for a possible bust at the top. For argument's sake, let's say they keep the pick and use it.
No one's saying Noel will be a bust per say, it seems too illogical. He has too much talent to wind up a true "bust." The questions surrounding his offensive skills and his ability to put on more mass are there, and they're valid. He needs to add weight, specifically muscle. He's a legit 6'11. Of course, that high-top does help.
Let's not forget about his most current issue and the defining red flag: His health. The man was having a great Freshman season at Kentucky until he tore his ACL around halfway through. At the time, he was being talked about as a probable lock at the No. 1 pick. This was due to his "Anthony Davis-like ability" and simply the extreme question marks surrounding everyone else in this year's draft. In 24 games started/played, Noel averaged some pretty nice numbers: 11 ppg 10 rpg 2 spg 2 apg & 4 bpg. The man showed his defensive skills and knack for blocking shots. He also brought a lot of energy and always seemed to be under control. He's also still very young(19). Couple that with an uncanny ability to protect the rim and he looks like a great decision. Still, the uncertainty remains.
|Davis averaged 14pts, 8rbs, 2blks in 64/82 games played this year|
This year kind of smells like last year's draft. Get an athletic big man who can protect the rim by nature. It does sound really nice: A young giant who appears to be the kind of piece that a team can build around for a decade or so. Kentucky comparisons aside, he looks to be this year's Anthony Davis. The Hornets weren't going to miss out on such a staple piece to build around in last years draft. Especially given the concerns regarding the other top picks. Davis' weakness is his body type. He's lean, kind of weak, and can be prone to injury. This sort of raises the worry regarding Noel. Davis played well his rookie season, but he kept getting nicked up throughout the year with minor injuries, and it has some people starting to wonder about his durability in the paint. Is he capable of taking that kind of beating for and extended career? I guess we'll see. Either way Davis is a freakish big man that a team can put great pieces around. He has great character, work ethic, natural abilities and can find his role with anyone on the court. He naturally blends in with his teammates. Sound like anyone else to you?
Cavs management and fans are hoping that if they choose Noel, he will keep putting on mass, rehab that knee back to normal, and become the interior defensive force he is predicted to be.
The interesting dilemma is not that the Cavs shouldn't take Noel, it's if they should take someone else instead? Is an injured, shot-blocking, skinny, non-shooter worth the overall No. 1 pick? Can you find that elsewhere? Future free agency or even a future draft? Hell, they also have the 19th pick THIS year! Maybe they grab Nick Withey out of Kansas or Dieng out of Louisville to help protect the rim. They have options and the Cavs will make the move they feel is best, that's certain. They took Waiters last year over Barnes. It shocked quite a few people. They surprised the WORLD the year prior with Tristan Thompson at #4(which I applauded given his raw ability at only age 19). Point is, they really don't care what anyone else thinks of a prospect. That can be a very good attribute for a franchise. As long as you're not David Kahn, former Wolves GM.
|Georgetown's Otto Porter is considered the Safest pick in this draft|
The other side to the "Noel" coin is they take whoever they feel is going to be the best pro, regardless of position. The odds are someone in the first 20 guys will be a better pro than Nerlens. He could be a nice big, but there will be better players from this crop. For me personally, a clear cut choice for the Cavs if not Noel, is Otto Porter from Georgetown. The long SF would be a great fit with Kyrie at the PG, Dion Waiters at the SG, and Tristan Thompson at the PF. With his mid-range game and ability to lock down defenders of multiple positions, you'd compliment your two scoring guards greatly, and allow Tristan to become a true PF. You'd have quite the young nice core in Ohio and NO ONE would snide at the pick. At least not right away. Sometimes the safe pick is the best. Sometimes.
Otto Porter is basically being talked about as the "Only Sure Thing" in this year's draft. Couple that with the fact that the Cavs need a legit SF, it's a pretty tempting idea. Take the so-called "sure-thing" at a position of need over the athletic center covered in question marks. It sounds pretty logical, given Otto pans out. I like either move if management handles it the right way. I'd like to see them grab Porter, but I'm more than fine with them grabbing Noel. If they see Porter as a "Kawhi Leonard/Paul George hybrid type," get him. If they don't and want the beast rim protector, that sounds great too. Although, Otto isn't the only name being thrown around at the top of the draft board. The most talked about No. 2 pick is someone else. Someone with lots of raw ability. Perhaps he's in the mix in Cleveland as well.
|McLemore's athleticism and shooting have made him climb this draft|
Kansas' Ben McLemore is the No. 2 pick in just about every mock out there. Some say Orlando would like to move that pick and I believe it. However, that remains to be seen. Ben has the prototypical size for a SG in the NBA, and the athleticism and range to match it. The kid can do it all on the ball court. It's no surprise he's sky-rocketed up the charts amidst all these questionable players. Some mocks even have him going to Cleveland at No. 1, although very few. He does play Waiters' position, which could be an issue. It could also be a great thing. Personally, I saw a lot of Kansas games and just didn't see him take over enough for me to have a grip on how good he truly is or possibly could be. He definitely has a lot of upside and the ability to score in bunches, but it was hard to tell on that Kansas team whether he can become a future All-Star or not. His athleticism is no joke. The man can absolutely soar through the air and slam with authority. He also can shoot from anywhere and gets hot like a video game. He did however disappear in a lot in games, especially late, which drew poor reviews from some scouts. That can all change though in my opinion, given time and confidence.
The Cavs drafted Dion Waiters as their future SG last year, but if they feel Ben is elite they'll have no issue drafting him and putting Dion on the bench as their Sixth-Man option. Dion showed his talent, that's for sure. The kid is tough, crafty and can score as well. He could stand to lose some more weight and continue to evolve his offensive game. His defense could use some work too.
No one's quite sure where the Cavs heads are at on him at this point. They may just see a really good bench scoring option when they look at Dion. Every bench needs scoring, especially the Cavs. The duo could possibly work out, and if Ben turns out be a star player the Cavs would be praised for the ballsy pick. It all depends on what the Cavs management and scouts see in Ben. As I eluded to earlier, the Cavs have no problem going against the conventional pick and taking who they feel is the best player on the board. They're one team that always seems to go with their guy despite the public opinion. If they want him, they'll grab him.
I understand that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert made the statement that he doesn't want to be in the lottery again anytime soon, but that isn't up to him. Also, I think he's being a bit short-sided. The Cavs are on the bottom of the NBA totem pole and next years draft is one of the most touted in a decade. Gilbert just needs to cool his jets a bit when it comes to competing right away. Patience is a good thing in this situation. The Cavs young core needs to develop, and the team isn't going anywhere anyway. They're nowhere near a 'championship level team' and not getting there in the next few years. They're just trying to become a 'playoff level team.' There's no rush to winning, especially with this loaded draft ahead. They can have their young core improve their skills by playing good minutes for another season, not necessarily by winning a lot of games. If I were the Cavs management, I'd want a shot at a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
I understand the Cavs want to be better and win more games now. I understand they want to be back in the playoffs, regardless of if they can realistically win the ring that year or not. I understand the years of championship-less seasons the people of Cleveland have had to bear. I get all that. I'm just saying that you don't get this opportunity too often and if you handle it correctly, you could be set up for years of playoff basketball in the city of Cleveland. They have a chance to stack young talent now. Focus on that. They're getting the opportunity often since losing Lebron, and they need to capitalize on it while they can. The reason I say this is this:
-As a franchise, the one thing you NEVER want to do in the NBA is HOVER-
Don't hover. Don't hang out in the middle. You either want to play so poor you can inject a ton of star youth, or you want to be great and competing for at least conference final contention year in and year out. That's it. The middle years will kill you. Blowing a bunch of lottery picks will kill you too, but that's a lesson for another time.
The Cavs should be focused on stockpiling as much young talent as they can while they're lucky enough to be on the bottom. They'll be in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack before too long, drafting in the possible late teens/early 20's, and far away from getting a possible 19 year old star. The Cavs need to pick well at #1 and #20 and not worry about winning next year. Just allow their talent to expand and grow on the court and don't focus on wins/losses at this point. I think they're 2-4 seasons away from being contenders and it could do them a lot of good to think that way as well. After all, we know how great Dan Gilbert is at luring established talent to come play in Cleveland. He got so many great players for Lebron during his 7 seasons there(Darius Miles, Mo Williams, Larry Hughes, Antwan Jamison). Get the stars young and cheap. And make sure you get plenty of them.
Let's Say Noel
For the sake of fun, and this blog, I'm going to talk about the benefits of the Cavs drafting Noel:
If I'm the Cavaliers and draft Noel, I first take a few weeks to perform all the introductory things that are necessary with a new rookie. I then go out and tell Noel and his family that he will sit out his ENTIRE rookie season to rehab his knee and learn the ways of the NBA. I would then set up a press conference to tell the media immediately. I'd take the questions and move on. I wouldn't let it linger.
He'd now have full access to NBA staff/trainers, and he could learn the professional game/lifestyle while building rapport with his teammates in practice. I'd make it clear that this rebuilding process is all about the long-term and we will err on the side of caution. There's no reason to rush him back to a shitty team where he'll play on a minutes restriction. The issue with Rose was that they cleared him in February and kept him as a possibility even throughout the playoffs, which was a mistake. I understand they weren't sure, but at some point just end the circus and say, "You're not coming back until next year. It's too late now."
Remember when Blake Griffin broke his kneecap in summer league before his rookie season and missed his entire rookie season? Most people don't. Most say, "Oh, yea! I forgot!" I understand Blake had no choice given the timing of the injury, but even if he was ready in February, do you think the Clippers rush him back on that crap team? An overall No. 1 pick and a potential building block for the franchise? Maybe because it's the Clippers they do, but the Cavs shouldn't.
I understand Noel's projected to be ready to play by maybe as early as December/January. This is just what I would do if I ran the team and selected Noel. I know it's dramatic, but I would do it if I were the GM. I also understand that given the Cavs do draft him, they will more than likely choose to play him in the second half of the season. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. If he's truly ready by January, why not play him and give him some minutes for the last few months. You can't live scared of another injury. I'm fine with that. It's just that I think this team should be concerned long-term about his health and their franchise winning. I'm not all crazy. I do have some reasons for sitting him out that would benefit the Cavs. As a GM, this would be my thinking if I take him. This would be my thinking if I say him his rookie season.
1. He gets to take his sweet time getting back to normal----We all have different bodies. We're not all Adrian Peterson, and basketball players put quite a bit of turn and slash on those knees. Nerlens has a very long career in front of him and the Cavs are losing a ton next year anyway. Why not lose more and give the kid an ample amount of time to get it better than it ever was. I don't think it hurts him to watch NBA basketball closely and rehab all year. I also don't think it hurts the Cavs.
2. He gets to spend a year watching what the players do on the road and during games on the bench.
----He's a young man suddenly with a lot of money and he's traveling the country. It could be good experience for him to get to watch the other guys for a year or so and grow. it's also a big deal to experience an NBA locker room and huddle for a year. It couldn't hurt, Larry Hughes is gone.
3. He will get a year of NBA knowledge and practice time.
----It did Blake a lot of good. He won Rookie of The Year the following season. Nerlens would learn a lot from his players and coaches and still build the fluidity with his teammates through practicing all season.Win-win.
4. He will get ample time to rehab his knee with NBA medical staff.
----Don't even consider rushing him to give him 12 minutes a game. Why??? To win a ring next year??
5. A sneaky benefit: The Cavs used a 1st rounder on Tyler Zeller last year. This would give him another year of serious playing time to become the great backup center they believe him to be. It would definitely improve his skill set and defense to get major minutes next season while Nerlens rehabbed.
6. Lebron Sweepstakes?
----I get that it's a total long-shot Lebron comes back in 2014 when he's a free agent. I also know that winning is what he cares about. The Cavs want as many great, young assets and free money that they muster. He's won with less.
And the Final Reason!
|Andrew Wiggins is the most touted H.S recruit since Lebron|
7. 2014 Draft: This draft is the most talked about since '03 with Lebron, Melo, Wade, Bosh and others. Any team, great or poor, should be hungry to have a bite of this pie if possible. With the new CBA, guys on rookie contracts who can contribute are like Gold. Drafts like this don't come around often and that's becoming even more apparent now with the "one and done" rule. Dan Gilbert should just put his "no more lottery" mindset away for just one more year. That's all I'm saying...
If the Cavs decide to go the Nerlens route, which almost every mock draft has them doing, the fans should be very excited about the future despite the uncertainty. If they grab someone else, they should be just as excited. Every pick in every year is uncertain. Even the guarantees could get injured or lose their way mentally/emotionally. No guarantees in gambling. No guarantees in sports. You have to just trust your management. You can only hope the organization has done their homework. For the Cavs, the time to lose is now. Stack up on young talent while you can, Dan Gilbert. You never know when they'll up and leave you for nothing in return.
~Jason T. Davis @WisdomOfSports