Now that essentially all the major prospects have declared their intentions to enter the upcoming draft or stay out for another year, I think it's time to begin putting together a watch list of prospects that are likely to be drafted by the Cavs in the first round. Since the lottery hasn't occurred yet and I don't want to be scratching my head after they pick someone no one expected, (like Tristan... or Dion... or Bennett...) I'm including some players that are currently projected to go much higher or much lower than the #9-10 range.
There are also some notable names I will be excluding, such as Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, or Gary Harris. This is mainly for positional/need conflicts. Kyrie and Dion are clearly the best two players on the team and in the absence of any franchise-altering prospects at the guard position, I seriously doubt David Griffin would spend a high first-round pick on a backup to compete with Jack, Dellavedova, and possibly Miles. As far as the pure power forward prospects, it's possible a stud like Julius Randle is picked if he falls to #9. Otherwise, I can't envision another power forward being added without serious, major changes being made to the roster in conjunction with the selection.
Essentially this leaves the small forward and center positions as the main targets to be filled by a draft pick. So who has an outside shot at being Cleveland's next frontcourt member? Let's take a look:
1. Andrew Wiggins
Obviously he won't be available unless the Cavs pick is #1 or #2. Which is unfortunate because not only is he an elite talent, but his skillset complements those of Kyrie and Dion. Wiggins is a long, athletic, and a potentially dominant defender that doesn't need the ball to be effective on offense. It's a perfect match but don't buy your playoff tickets yet as there's only a 2% chance he makes it to Cleveland.
2. Jabari Parker
Another consensus top 3 pick, but most draft experts have him slightly below Wiggins, as do I. Parker's defense was awfully weak in college and I don't expect that to change early in his NBA career. However, he's an incredibly versatile offensive weapon that can score from anywhere on the court. He reminds me of a much better version of Anthony Bennett based off his measurements, offensive prowess, and defensive shortcomings. Pairing the two together could cause nightmares for opposing defenses and have them licking their chops when Cleveland runs back on defense.
3. Dario Saric
Saric is one of several forwards projected to be picked in the back half of the lottery. He has great size and ball-handling capabilities, but as of now would struggle playing SF due to his lack of athleticism and marginal three-point shooting. Personally, I think he can be a good stretch 4 and terrible SF, but the Cavs might be interested in someone with his size and basketball IQ.
4. Doug McDermott
Doug McBuckets. Everyone knows him and everyone has an opinion. He's a one-man wrecking crew on offense and the most polished player on that side of the ball in the entire draft class; better than Jabari, better than Stauskas, better than Young, Payne, or Hood. If he could ever become an average defender, there's no question McDermott would be a major success in the NBA. But that's one big "if." One encouraging sign is that he has shown improvement in his quickness during college, being able to shuffle his feet faster and bring more intensity than similarly unathletic players like Kyle Anderson. Additionally, his success during the NBA senior team mini-camp gives credence to those saying he can make it in the NBA.
5. James Young
Another popular projection at #9 is James Young. While he may not have the ideal height or weight for a SF, he definitely has the shooting ability to be a difference maker at the position. His shot is still streaky, but the foundation is there to build into a sharpshooter from deep. Also, he doesn't do much work off the bounce, so he could fit in well with ball-dominant guards like Kyrie and Dion. On the downside, his defense still leaves something to be desired and may not have the same level of work ethic as gym rats like Jabari Parker or Doug McDermott. However, that might just be a side-effect of being the third-youngest player in the draft pool.
6. Rodney Hood
Hood joins McDermott and Young to form a trio of three-point shooting small forwards likely to be picked in the #9-20 area. Like Young, Hood is a versatile left-handed forward that keeps defenses spread from corner-to-corner. While he has a different build than the other two (Hood is taller than Young and quicker than McDermott), he still has issues on defense and is older than his Sophomore standing would indicate. But there is definitely potential to be a complementary scorer in Cleveland's starting lineup.
7. Kyle Anderson
Quite possibly the biggest question mark in the entire draft, Anderson has appeared as high as #9 or as low as #30 in various mock drafts. While he has the size and requisite skills to play anywhere from point guard to stretch 4, his lack of athleticism could keep him from making an impact in the league. As his "Slo-Mo" nickname implies, he appears to do everything in slow-motion, which can be beautiful or ugly depending on the outcome. It's only one fan's opinion, but I think he's the least athletic player on this entire list, although that doesn't necessarily mean he will fail. Just look at Paul Pierce, who is still effective at 36 despite his many sloth-like qualities. He has length, shooting, and a tremendous basketball IQ; three of the four qualities David Griffin mentioned during his press conference was lacking on this team. He'll be a fascinating player to watch during the draft process, especially during the combine's athletic testing segment. If his agility and sprint results put him anywhere except the bottom of small forwards, that would help him continue to rise on teams' draft boards.
8. T.J. Warren
An under-the-radar name for sure, but T.J. Warren lit it up while leading N.C. State to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament as well as a place in the Big Dance. Warren is another tweener forward that isn't athletic enough to guard many SF's but too small (with short arms) to guard almost any starting-quality PF. On the upside, he's a creative scorer who can put the ball in the bucket with or without the ball. And although his three-point shooting is weak, he has enough ability to eventually become respectable and punish sagging defenders. Ultimately, T.J. is a hard-nosed player that could be a top option on many bench units.
9. Jerami Grant
If you hate players like McDermott or even Warren you'll love Jerami Grant. Just take one look at his frame and explosive athleticism and if you can picture him developing actual basketball skills, you're probably having flashbacks of #23. He has the physical attributes to dominate at the SF position, both offensively and defensively. But then again, hoping he develops a shot and improves his ball handling is a huge leap of faith considering Grant made only 6 threes in his two-year college career (and all of them in his freshman year). This is the type of player I would automatically red-flag as a Chris Grant pick, but with David Griffin behind the wheel, who knows what direction he will go. During the combine wait to see his shooting percentages. If he can show some progress from deep with just two months of practice I would expect his stock to rise into the lottery and become a viable option at #9.
If you've made it through all the small forwards and don't need a break, take a look at some of the big name centers. Don't worry, there's only four.
1. Joel Embiid
"JoJo" made the most of his single year in college. After moving to the backyard of the University of Florida to play high school basketball, Embiid signed with Kansas expecting to develop for several years. However, his massive length and great feel on offense, Embiid drew some (probably overblown) comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. The biggest question mark around him is his health, as his back has been an issue throughout the year. If there is any indication of a chronic problem, you'll inevitably hear screams of "Greg Oden!!" which unfortunately might be appropriate. But assuming health isn't a problem, Embiid is an All-NBA talent that would give the Cavs the dominant post presence they so desperately need.
2. Noah Vonleh
Noah Vonleh has the potential to be a versatile scorer in the NBA. He's got the foundation to score inside the paint, in the midrange, and even bury an open three or two every game. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Vonleh is probably best suited to play power forward instead of center. His lack of height and standing reach would put him at the bottom of most respectable NBA centers. Now if Cleveland decides to part ways with someone like Tristan, Vonleh can step in and take over his role being primarily a PF while occasionally playing the middle. And adding a player with range is always going to help Kyrie and Dion slice and dice the defense.
3. Jusuf Nurkic
I'm going to be honest, I haven't seen Nurkic play at all aside from a DraftExpress video and other random highlights. At least with other guys like Capela I've watched them in the flow of a game. But Jusuf brings the size and skill on offense that not many young big men can offer. I get the impression of Nurkic becoming a Pekovic-type player that bruises his way to plenty of points and rebounds while being a marginal presence on defense. Whether that works for the Cavs, who knows?
4. Clint Capela
Another enigma for many basketball fans in America, Capela has attractive physical abilities but still has several glaring weaknesses. First of all, he needs to add about 25-30 pounds to his 220 lb frame, but that should come in time. The bigger question is his offensive game, which is nothing more than finishing lobs and layups in transition and the pick-and-roll. He needs to develop something to keep defenses honest and stay on the court. While some scouts consider him just a PF, Capela has height measurements that are almost identical to centers Nerlens Noel, Anthony Davis, and Dwight Howard. Add that to the fact he is unbelievably fast and a strong rim protector in the French league, Capela becomes an intriguing long-term prospect. After all, the Cavs do need a center like him on defense.
While there might be reason to add or subtract names from this list as time passes, it's a good starting point to determine which player might be selected on the night of June 26. If the Cavs get lucky in the draft lottery once again and are able to jump into one of the top three slots, this whole group of prospects will be cut down to Wiggins, Embiid, and Parker (and likely in that order of priority). But until then, we can obsess over game film, measurements, and keep our eyes glued to the combine in May.