The Cleveland Cavaliers should be largely absent from the proceedings when the 2017 NBA Draft takes place in Brooklyn on June 22. For the second year in a row, the Cavs will walk into the draft without a pick in hand, having traded their first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers in the January deal that facilitated the Kyle Korver trade. Their second-round pick belongs to the Boston Celtics, the last remnant of the Jarrett Jack trade that cleared cap space for LeBron James. Coming off three straight Finals appearances, the Cavaliers don’t really have the interest or ability to add young players to the roster. Kay Felder is their primary development piece, and Cedi Osman could give them another. Even with two-way contracts coming, the Cavs aren’t likely to get in on the action.
However, we said the same thing last year, and the Cavs went out and bought a second-round pick, grabbing Felder with the No. 54 pick after buying it from the Atlanta Hawks. The Cavs could find some way to get involved, and land a player they can stick on a two-way contract and hide with the Canton Charge to develop. Nine teams have multiple second-round picks, so there may be picks to be had for the right price once again.
And even if they don’t land a draft pick, the Cavs will be hitting the undrafted player pool to try to find potential Charge players and fill out their Summer League roster. Potential diamonds in the rough exist, as they do every year, and the Cavs are doing some scouting of young players, even if their primary efforts have been focused elsewhere. Here are five players in this draft class who could makes sense for the Cavs to target with a bought pick, or in the undrafted market.
Sterling Brown, SG, SMU
2016-17 stats: 13.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 46/45/79 shooting splits
Sterling Brown is the type of player every winning team should covet. Finding quality three-and-D players is going to be hard in this draft class, which is begging for good wing prospects outside of Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, and O.G. Anunoby. Brown was a late-bloomer in the draft process, and could go anywhere from the beginning of the 2nd round to not being drafted at all.
Brown fits all of the classic three-and-D qualities a team like the Cavs would want. He hit 44.9 percent from three on 3.9 attempts per game, and 75 percent of those shots were assisted, per hoop-math. He was also a valuable piece on one of the best defensive squads among mid-majors, and his size at 6-6”, 200 pounds ,will be pretty valuable at the next level in allowing him to defend some threes. He was a solid rebounder at the college level, and while he’ll probably be limited as a ball-handler in the NBA, he showed flashes of competence as an isolation scorer.
Three-and-D wings are the most scarce commodity in the league, and there’s an argument that NBA teams should be trying to stockpile as many players that could possibly fit that mold. For the Cavs, Brown’s about the best shot they could possibly have at adding a player who could fit that mold.
Edmond Sumner, PG, Xavier
2016-17 stats: 14.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists per game, 48/27/74 shooting splits (tore ACL after 22 games)
Sumner would be a long play for the Cavs. He may be available to them due to his ACL tear, which may keep him off the floor into 2018. He was a possible first-rounder prior to that, and if his athleticism comes back fully, he could be a steal as a bench guard.
Sumner was primarily a point guard for Xavier, but his future should be as a two-guard in the NBA, with his 6-5” frame and 6-9” wingspan giving him some nice defensive potential. He didn’t show much on this end at Xavier, but a lot of his issues were effort-related, which could be due to his high usage as a lead guard. He’s strong at using his length to contest shots, and if he’s locked in, his ability to pressure the ball on the perimeter could be valuable.
Sumner’s not going to be as valuable to NBA teams as a creator, but he’s a strong slasher, and a year of working on strength in rehab should help him transition into being an off-ball threat. He’s not a good shooter at any level, but the hope is his secondary passing skills and finishing will be enough, as his defensive profile is what you want on the floor.
Sumner’s going to need time to recover and develop - time the Cavs have to give in the G-League. They’ll always need help defending the point of attack with Kyrie, and even if Sumner gives the impression of the second coming of Iman Shumpert, his ceiling is a player that the Cavs could find useful. If he slips through the draft, the Cavs could be a nice undrafted free agent landing spot for him.
P.J. Dozier, G, South Carolina
2016-17 stats: 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists per game, 41/30/60 shooting splits
Dozier combines the best aspects of Sumner and Brown’s defensive profiles. He has similar size to Brown, with a 6-11” wingspan and 6-5” frame, and he has athleticism better than Sumner’s. He’s an absolute bulldog on-ball, and he was one of college basketball’s better thieves in 2016-17.
Dozier has pretty much every tool you could want for a defensive guard. He is laterally quick enough to contain point guards, and strong and long enough to battle twos and threes. He defends the pick-and-roll well and he’s a strong defensive rebounder. With development, he could become the type of guy we want Iman Shumpert to be as a defender.
The problem for Dozier is offense, where he’s nearly a complete zero. Like Sumner, he’s not a good shooter at all, and his mechanics don’t lend to him ever becoming one. He also doesn’t really have on-ball skills, with a loose handle compromising decent body control attacking the rim. He’ll basically only be a weapon in transition, unless he can get stronger and more competent on ball.
Dozier should be available near the end of the draft, but he’s a legitimate NBA defensive prospect. On a team like the Cavs, who will never ask him to be anything on offense, he could have a role defending both backcourt spots in time, acting as the team’s best trapping guard to shore up the pick-and-roll defense. Best of all, given his motor, you’ll never have to care about Dozier’s effort level in a random February game. He may not score, but I love the fit of him on this roster.
Ilimane Diop, C, Baskonia
2016-2017 stats: 4.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.6 blocks per game
Ignore the raw numbers. Playing as the fourth big on a Euroleague playoff team, Diop never really got a shot to show his talent with regularity. But when he did get a shot, he showed why he’s the most underrated player in the draft class.
Watch tape of Diop and a few things immediately stand out - his fluidity in the pick-and-roll, which combined with the standard-grade European screening skills, should mean there’s some solid dive-man potential in his future. He’s an underrated passer, and his footwork on the perimeter defensively is fantastic. In a class full of iffy bigs from the NCAA, it’s a shame he hasn’t gotten more run as a potential draft pick.
While buying a draft-and-stash option doesn’t seem like the best option, Diop isn’t married to staying with Baskonia, and could come over right away. ACB bigs have a pattern coming of age around the age of 23-24, and it’s not unreasonable to expect another jump from Diop if he gets on an NBA strength program. He’s an athletic five that can defend the rim and finish out of the PNR, and while there’s a volume of bigs available in this draft, few fit all three of those qualifications.
Diop is older, played in Europe, and didn’t play much. That’s a bad combination for NBA teams to notice him. But he’s an NBA talent, and the Cavs need big depth. If they could land him and bring him over with Cedi, that’s a good outcome.
Cameron Oliver, PF, Nevada
2016-17 stats: 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks per game, 47/38/69 shooting splits
Jordan Bell of Oregon has gotten a lot of push with a favorable draft combine and individual workouts. His projected role as a small-ball center that can defend well in all aspects is incredibly valuable - as Tristan Thompson fans, we all know that.
While Bell might end up going in the first round, Oliver might not get drafted, despite offering an approximation of the same skill set. The 6-8” Nevada center was one of the NCAA’s most prolific shot-blockers, overcoming his lack of height with a nearly 40-inch vertical leap and great upper body strength to duel with opponents down low. He didn’t quite have the consistency of Bell on the defensive game, but the raw skill set is definitely worth developing.
Where Oliver sets himself apart is on the offensive end, where his budding perimeter game could make him a great asset in the Cavs’ offense. He was the second best big in the class at shooting threes behind Lauri Markkanen, hitting 2.3 threes per 40, and if his jumper translates, he’s a legitimate spot-up threat. He’s also a capable offensive rebounder and pick-and-roll finisher, but there is a worry that he’ll struggle to adjust to a reduced role, and his decision-making isn’t great at this stage. That’s a troubling combination.
Still, though, the raw talent is off the charts for Oliver. He’d be a great fit with the Cavs, who could help hammer him into a more restricted role, and his game bridges the gap between Tristan Thompson’s style of defense and a Channing Frye-esque spot-up game. There’s an obvious role as a backup five for Oliver on this team, and this is a great place to attempt to maximize the things he’s good at.