Only a few weeks ago, the decision by new Cavaliers GM David Griffin and intensely involved, billionaire owner Dan Gilbert seemed like a lock. Joel Embiid was considered the prospect with the biggest upside at the NBA’s thinnest position; a true center with shot blocking instincts, elite athleticism, touch around the rim with both hands, excellent footwork for any post player regardless of size, and a developing jumper extending all the way out to the 3 point line. All this, mind you, after only playing basketball for three years and playing half a season in college at Kansas. While the comparisons to a young Hakeem Olajuwon may have been more dream than reality, the former Jayhawk only had the sky as his limit – until two stress fractures, one in his back and one in his foot, left his draft stock grounded. Now the Cavs have little option than to pass on Embiid at #1 merely on the possibility that Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker could work their way into fixtures at the NBA All-Star game, with Embiid watching from the sidelines in an XXXL suit. This leaves three likely possibilities: Draft Wiggins or Parker or trade the pick, the last one being the most intriguing.
Andrew Wiggins 6’8" 200 pounds SG/SF
Best Case: Tracy McGrady with better defense or a more athletic Kawaii Leonard
Worst Case: Harrison Barnes (his lack of development so far) or Gerald Green
Andrew Wiggins had been the consensus top prospect going into the 2013-14 college basketball season. The highflying Canadian teenager looks born to play basketball, and in actuality this is precisely the case. His father a former NBA player and his mother a former Olympic sprinter, Wiggins moves around the court with ease, and has the stride and vertical of a world-class high jumper. Though still raw, he isn’t without some NBA ready skills. Wiggins already is considered a strong, willing defender with the size and quickness to defend both guard positions and small forwards. Additionally his jump shot is better than he often gets credit for. He shows adequate shooting form that can be tweaked without having to be rebuilt (in no way is this a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist situation), and his aforementioned jumping ability allows him to get excellent lift on his shot over lengthy defenders. Still, he is a work in progress. He’ll have to greatly improve his handle to create his own offense at the next level and there is also some concern of his ability to finish around the rim when he isn’t able to rise above the defense for the high percentage dunk. Lastly, Wiggins must face accusations that he isn’t an "alpha dog" type. Strangely this might actually work in the Cavalier’s favor. We’ve already seen the chemistry issues between All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and pit bull, combo dynamo Dion Waiters. Adding a third player who refuses to play nice with teammates or give any defensive effort against the opposition unless he’s able to dominate the ball would be disastrous. Wiggins will contribute on offense and should work tirelessly on defense without stealing the spotlight from Kyrie Irving.
Jabari Parker 6’8" 254? pounds SF/PF
Best Case: Paul Pierce, a Carmelo Anthony who passes
Worst Case: Fat, Selfish Rudy Gay
While prospects have moved up and down the draft board throughout the last year because of inconstant play, surprise workouts, or injury, Jabari Parker has remained the one constant; and if Andrew Wiggins was born to ball, Jabari was bred for it. Also the son of a former NBAer, Jabari started developing his game at an early age. He made his school’s eighth grade team as only a fourth grader. He won four high school state titles while at Simeon High and was the first two-time Illinois Mr. Basketball winner. A late growth spurt graced him with guard skills (handle, shoot, pass) but in a power forward’s body, a combination that has made many players perennial all-stars and franchise scorers. At 19 years of age, Parker has already developed a barrage of NBA level post moves, cross overs, and step back jumpers. The questions concerning his athleticism are overblown. He may not be an elite level athlete like Wiggins but showed the full range of ability at the college level to grab a rebound, push the ball down the floor in transition, and then either step through the defense for an athletic layup or elevate for a thunderous dunk. If he can get into better shape and maximize his potential, he’ll be more than capable of getting the shot he wants whenever he wants it.
However, this is a big, fat IF. Parker’s weight fluctuates more than Jonah Hill trying to win an Academy Award. Reports are that Parker weighed in at 254 pounds for the Cavaliers’ private workout which is not a great sign for a player who could be selected #1 in the most highly touted draft class in the last decade. As was previously noted, Wiggins appears to be the better fit with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. However, trade rumors abound surrounding Waiters to try to add a lottery pick in this year’s draft and to make Kyrie happier about signing an extension that is likely to be offered July 1st. With Waiters out of the picture, a one-two punch of former Duke Blue Devils Irving and Parker look more possible. A third piece to the puzzle is the future of the #1 pick from last year’s dubious draft, Anthony Bennett. Do the Cavs give Bennett the benefit of the doubt for a disappointing rookie campaign? If so Parker may be redundant in some ways. Both Bennett and Parker most naturally fit in the "stretch 4" position – a mix of post play and outside shooting while defending the opposing team’s power forward. As mentioned, Parker’s guard skills allow him to play more of the small forward role on offense, but if Bennett and Parker are on the floor together it leaves little option to properly match up with small forwards. Parker and Kyrie could be a dominant offensive duo for many years to come if the Cavaliers rebuild the roster around them. Griffin has the pieces and flexibility to do so, but would he rather work trades for a different direction?
The Trade Game
The rise and fall of Joel Embiid has created some intriguing trade propositions. It looked like the Philadelphia 76ers could sit at #3 and let Wiggins come to them assuming that Embed went #1, and Parker #2 to the Milwaukee Bucks. But with the likely hood of Wiggins and Parker going #1 and #2 (in either order) the 76ers might have to be aggressive to move up and get their guy. Additionally, the 76ers couldn’t afford to roll the dice on yet another injury plagued big man as they took Nerlens Noel in last year’s draft. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, might be scheming to add young talent for the future and immediate contributing players to meet Dan Gilbert’s demands to make the playoffs again in 2014. Rumors have Philadelphia offering their picks at #3, #10, and forward Thaddeus Young for Cleveland’s picks at #1 and #33. This would be significant value for the #1 pick allowing them to take a flyer on Embiid, still getting a potential starter at #10 in an incredibly deep draft, and add a productive player in Thaddeus Young who could either start if Bennett isn’t ready or be flipped before the trade deadline.
A second rumor has a potential offer of the Cavs #1 pick and point guard Jarrett Jack for Utah’s #5, 22 year-old big man Derrick Favors and either/both the #23 pick and/or shooting guard Alec Burks. In my view, this deal trumps Philadelphia’s offer. It would add two young, talented pieces that could have an immediate impact, and with Favors plugged in as a long term option at center, taking Joel Embiid and letting him sit out a year would become even more palatable. At #23, the Cavs could target an athletic small forward like KJ McDaniels, Glen Robinson III, or Cleanthony Early, and Alec Burks would provide the same offensive lift off the bench that they got from C.J. Miles.
The most recent rumored offer comes from the Orlando Magic. According to reports, the Magic are offering #4, #12, and Aaron Afflalo. What’s enticing about this offer is that it gives the Cavs a "win now" piece in one of the NBA’s best two-way shooting guards in Afflalo who would also make a trade with Dion Waiters more possible. Similarly to the Philly deal, Embiid can be taken at #4 and a potential starter at #12. The Cavs could target Nik Stauskas or Garry Harris at #12 who could replace Afflalo in the starting lineup if he leaves in free agency next year. It all comes down to what the Cavs know that we do not, that is, the details of Joel Embiid’s medical condition. If the Cavs believe he is still worth the risk, than all the posturing is a smoke screen to get maximum value for the #1 pick and still end up with their guy. If the concerns of Embiid’s health are more severe than they are even letting on, they should probably stay the course and take Andrew Wiggins – the top prospect all along.
Follow Britton L. Roberts on twitter @theBLRreview
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