The Cleveland Cavaliers will probably take a long, hard look at several post prospects in advance of the 2015 NBA Draft. I've looked heavily at guards so far, and have completely neglected post players. I've also started out by hitting heavily on guys who I think fit very well on the Cavs' roster. This week, we're going to flip on both of those categories, as we review a big who I don't necessarily think is a great choice for the Cavs: Kansas's Cliff Alexander.
Who is Cliff Alexander?
Alexander was once a potential top-10 prospect, a much-hyped big from Chicago who gave Jahlil Okafor trouble. Alexander then went to Kansas, and......let's just say his 2014-2015 season wasn't great. In typical one-and-done fashion under Bill Self, Alexander didn't totally get used properly, and started just six games as Kansas opted to primarily be a small-ball team with Jamari Taylor at center. He averaged just 4.6 field goal attempts per game, and while he was pretty good in the sixth man role, wasn't featured as well as he possibly could have been. Then, on February 23rd, Kansas suspended Alexander indefinitely for a pending NCAA investigation. Because of that, we have 28 games of data on Alexander, 22 of which he came off the bench. So that's great.
Alexander is only 6'8", which is a bit concerning because he has the skill set of a center. However, there's plenty to like about Alexander's athleticism that will allow him to still have potential in the NBA. Most promising about Alexander's frame are his Elton Brand-esque arms, which give him a pretty ridiculous 7'3" wingspan that allows him to still block shots and finish over defenders inside. Alexander's also very explosive, which if you watch the video above, becomes readily apparent because he can pretty much dunk on anyone and anything. He runs the floor very well on both ends, is a playmaker in transition, and is very strong as well. Even though his height is an issue for his skill set, he's going to be a problem for opponents on both ends due to his wingspan, athleticism, and motor.
Alexander's not going to make any impact on offense any time soon. Alexander got better at Kansas on this end, particularly in his passing and court awareness, but he's still not going to be more than a Reggie Evans or Andre Drummond on the offensive end for at least his first few years in the league. Alexander's great at finishing around the rim, because he's a fantastic lob threat and is pretty solid at filling space along the baseline. For the same reason, he should be a good transition finisher as well. However, in a halfcourt offense, Alexander doesn't offer much more than prowling for offensive rebounds or dump-off passes. He's very good at this, as he can get good position on defenders and his box out technique is very clean. However, his post moves are very, very basic, and he has zero touch with hook shots or turnarounds. He can seal defenders well to get position, but rarely does anything notable with the ball, and he's a pretty bad passer from the post as well. He also showed little improvement in the post as the season went on, notably concerning because Kansas ran a ton of post-ups for Alexander in the halfcourt.
One of the most frustrating things with Alexander is how little action he got in the pick-and-roll. Alexander could be a decent finisher out of these sets, because he's got the length to finish against contact, has decent hands, and sets screens well. However, he rarely got chances to do this last season, and I have to wonder how long it's going to take him to get NBA timing down in the PNR due to his lack of experience.
Alexander does have good form on a rarely-used outside jumper, which would really help him if he could add it to his arsenal. However, his release is really, really slow and mechanical, which could really hurt him because it makes close-outs easier. He's also pretty inconsistent right now as a shooter, and is probably stuck as an interior player primarily until he makes that 18-footer a bigger part of his game. Alexander has potential as an offensive player, but he's unbelievably raw on this end, and is going to have a lot to work on to ever be more than an offensive glass cleaner.
Alexander's defensive capabilities offer a little bit more promise. Because of his athleticism, Alexander was able to post a very solid 7.7 percent block rate, and he can get his hands on shots both inside and on the perimeter. He's good at timing block attempts if he's in position, and has a good understanding of verticality when he's defending in the post. He also has the makings of a solid pick-and-roll defender, because he's great at aggressively hedging on guards and timing his recovery when the guard recovers. He can be a little slow in recovering to his man, but in an NBA PNR scheme that's going to have extra help over the top, I don't see that as a huge issue. Alexander also should be a very good defensive rebounder if he gets stronger, because he has good drive to get to loose balls and his positioning is good inside, even against bigger forwards.
Alexander's still pretty raw on this end, and his major weaknesses are post defense and positioning. Alexander should be a great post defender because he's got a low center of gravity and good lower body strength, but he doesn't always get in a good stance to prevent from getting sealed, and can give up inside position. This is something that should come with more experience, but it's worth noting. He also struggles with positioning defensively, and that resulted in a high foul rate (4.6 per 40 minutes) because he wasn't always in the best position when he needed to rotate over. Alexander needs some work off the ball when it comes to discipline and awareness, but given his potential as a PNR defender, I think he's got a chance to be a strong defensive player.
I'm not going to waste time discussing Alexander's NCAA violations, because [8,000 WORD RANT AGAINST THE NCAA REDACTED]. The bottom line is, it sucks that Alexander got booted and somewhat forced to enter the NBA Draft this year, because I really think he needed another year at Kansas. If he had gotten to come back next year, develop as more of a focal point inside as a post player, and gotten another year of defensive tutelage, I really think he'd look like a much different prospect. As it stands now, though, Alexander is extremely raw, and I really don't think there's much chance we'd see him in an NBA uniform next year, as he instead would require extensive D-League time.
I will say that Alexander has a very high motor, which will help, and a mean streak, which means he could stick as an enforcer type who crashes the glass, gets physical, and disrupts the flow of an opponents offense by bullying post players. However, because of his limited skill set, I think Alexander's going to have to play a lot of minutes at center, and that probably negates some of that motor because he'll be at a huge size disadvantage.
Tristan Thompson is a decent comparison for Alexander, but TT is probably a better athlete than Alexander is. Instead, I think that Alexander's best fit in the league is probably as something like late-career Anthony Mason or pre-injury Danny Fortson. Alexander looks like he'll probably have the most impact as a defensive rebounder who can fill gaps offensively and score off lobs, and can hold his own defensively despite a lack of size. It really all depends on how his offensive game develops; if he can add a jumper or become stronger on the offensive glass, he could be a real weapon. Otherwise, his ceiling might end up being the next Chuck Hayes. Regardless, we're going to have to withhold judgment on Alexander for at least three years, because given how raw he is, expecting anything immediate seems foolish.
How would he fit on the Cavaliers?
Alexander's physicality and shot blocking potential make him a draw for the team, but offensively, his (minimal) skill set overlaps with what Thompson and Timofey Mozgov offer. Also, given how he's going to need a lot of time to develop, I can't see the Cavs, who probably would like at least some first year contribution from their draft pick, spending this pick on a developmental project. There's also the terrifying similarity between Alexander and several recent Cavalier big men. I'm not saying history should factor into what the Cavs do with this pick, but it's worth mentioning that Alexander would likely be top-5 on Chris Grant's draft board, and that should terrify you.