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Preseason 2019 NBA Draft Primer: Who should the Cavs fans be watching?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are speeding towards a return to the NBA Draft lottery, which means it’s important to pay attention to draft prospects again.

2018 NBA Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The nice thing about firing your coach after an 0-6 start to the season is that it sets your goals for the season before we even get to November.

Barring something completely insane, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be in the mix for the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. We know that now! Rather than waiting for the season to start in April, it’s functionally over in October. That’s comforting.

That means that it’s time to start paying attention to the NBA Draft again. The 2019 NBA Draft doesn’t look to be as deep as the past two drafts have been, but there’s still some good talent at the top, headlined by the incredibly athletic Zion Williamson and Canadian savior R.J. Barrett. Outside of the top-five or so prospects, however, there’s a big drop-off in terms of talent level. It’s in the Cavs’ best interest to get into the top-five. Luckily, that’s looking pretty likely

With college basketball kicking off next week, you’ll probably want to keep an eye on the important matchups between top prospects to get a good idea of who the Cavs are going to be looking at. To get you up to speed, we’re going to be unveiling our Cavs-centric top ten prospects for the 2019 NBA Draft class, and we’ll also do a quick tour of college basketball to help you focus your attention in the right places when we kick off next week.

2019 Cleveland Cavaliers Big Board

1. R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke

A Canadian wing that this year’s best shot at a two-way playmaking wing, something that is a foundational piece for any rebuilding team. Barrett has great craft attacking off the dribble, is one of the class’s best passers, and looks like a decent team defender. His jumper is a work in progress, but he’s good enough to project as a potential number one scorer. At minimum, Barrett looks like a plug-and-play rotation player in the league. At best, he’s the Cavs’ next foundational star.

2. Nassir Little, SG, UNC

Little has some buzz this year as the next Kawhi Leonard, because of the meteoric rise of his jumper in his senior year of high school combined with all-world defensive potential. Little’s ceiling might be higher than Barrett’s thanks to the flashes he shows shooting off the dribble. He doesn’t have the same value as a playmaker and is far more raw than Barrett, but he is a great consolation prize at this point that could even overtake Barrett for the top overall spot.

3. Zion Williamson, PF, Duke

Williamson will be a favorite this year because his highlight reel is unmatched by anyone we’ve seen in recent years. He’s a brilliant leaper who has incredible strength as well, and he shows some potential to be a Blake Griffin-style scorer off the dribble. However, that fit is somewhat clunky with the Cavaliers’ roster at this point. Playmaking wings should probably be valued over bigs as long as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are on the roster, and Williamson’s value as a three is very murky. He will be a guy that many will zero in on, but Barrett and Little look like better fits.

4. Cameron Reddish, SG, Duke

The pros for Reddish: He’s probably the best pull-up shooter in the class, is an underrated playmaker, and skill-wise, would be an incredible fit next to Collin Sexton because of his ability to switch on defense and spot-up off Sexton drives. The cons: He has the same black hole potential Sexton does, and his effort waxed and waned to an absurd degree in high school. Sounds like a pretty Cavs draft pick, and that’s not a compliment!

5. DeAndre Hunter, SF, Virginia

One of college basketball’s best team defenders, Hunter looks like a plug-and-play role player at the NBA level with a small degree of offensive upside. He’s an incredibly safe option for the Cavs to put next to Cedi Osman on the wing, even if he has a lot to prove to stay at this level.

6. Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky

Johnson is similar to Hunter in that he’s a versatile wing prospect with impressive measurables. He looks pretty solid at everything, but doesn’t have a go-to skill at this point. Kentucky will probably find one for him though, especially because he’s a very strong defensive prospect.

7. Bol Bol, C, Oregon

I like Bol a lot because he has strong potential as both a rim protector and pick-and-pop big, an incredibly valuable combination. The son of Manute Bol, Bol has a similar frame, which is concerning, but far more offensive skill. I like him much better in a vacuum than Hunter or Johnson because he has star potential. However, the Cavs really don’t need another center, even if he’s complimentary to the others on the roster.

8. Sekou Doumbouya, PF, Limoges

Doumbouya is a pretty athletic four who has shown some pretty solid ball-handling skills. He might be a pretty strong small-ball four.

9. Quentin Grimes, SG, Kansas

A combo guard that’s high on athleticism but low on fundamental skills. He might be a project, but could pay off as a backcourt mate for Sexton.

10. Simi Shittu, C, Vanderbilt

If Tristan Thompson gets traded, Shittu might be a solid option as essentially Thompson duplicate that can pass. He’s a great space defender and rebounder as a small-ball five.

Now that we know the top players, let’s talk about where I need to pay attention. Seems like Duke’s important, huh?

Duke is important to watch this year. They have three top-five draft prospects playing together, plus two other probable draft prospects in point guard Tre Jones and power forward Javin DeLaurier. The draft’s heft at the top is very reliant on how the Blue Devils manage the workloads of Barrett, Reddish and Williamson on offense, and who nudges themselves ahead as the top offensive option. This is the poor man’s version of 2015 Kentucky.

Speaking of Kentucky, what’s their one-and-done setup look like?

Keldon Johnson is joined by two pretty middling point guards in Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans, as well as shooting guard Tyler Herro. None of those guys are players I’m particularly interested in however due to size or skill development concerns. P.J. Washington, who withdrew from the draft last year, is their other major NBA Draft prospect as a playmaking four.

Who might rocket up draft boards as the college season goes on?

There’s plenty of potential for sleepers due to the lack of solidified talent up top. Among the freshmen, LSU power forward Naz Reid and Wake Forest forward Jaylen Howard are players to watch. Reid is a very good ball-handler with great athleticism, and Hoard’s value as a team defender should not be undersold. Among returners, Hunter can solidify a top-five standing if he can break out, and there’s a lot of potential for upperclassmen point guards to make a statement because the freshman point guard class is pretty weak. That could mean good things for guys like Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and Cincinnati’s Jaron Cumberland. Also, watch for Nebraska power forward Isaiah Roby, who looked like an athletic freak in limited minutes for the Cornhuskers last year.

What’s the overarching theme of the draft this year?

Unfortunately, injuries have further crippled this class, as several players have suffered concerning injuries in the lead-up to the season. Chief among these is Jontay Porter of Missouri, who tore his ACL and will miss the season, putting his place in the 2019 NBA Draft in doubt. Foot injuries have also plagued multiple players, with Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie and Texas’s Andrew Jones suffering foot fractures. Reddish has dealt with injury issues for Duke early on too. Hopefully those players can show that they can come back healthy.

This Darius Bazley kid I keep hearing about must be pretty good if he’s skipping college basketball, right?

About that. Bazley might be one of the class’s most recognizable names right now, but it’s unlikely that he’s a first round talent, even. A thin power forward with some shooting touch, there are real concerns about Bazley’s feel and defensive skill set, and interning at New Balance is unlikely to really help either of those things. He’s a huge wild card because he might get overvalued purely on name recognition, but he’s an extremely risky prospect.

Anywhere else I should train my eyes on?

Five additional teams to focus on outside of the major powers (Duke, Kentucky, UNC, etc) this year:

  • LSU. Reid joins waterbug point guard Tremont Waters, small-ball center Emmitt Williams, and role-playing forward Darius Days to give LSU a ton of potential NBA talent.
  • Murray State. Combo guard Ja Morant is likely the best non-Gonzaga midmajor player this year.
  • Vanderbilt. Shittu and point guard Darius Garland are both potential lottery picks, and should develop strong chemistry in the pick-and-roll, though both are undersized.
  • Indiana. If three-and-D shooting guard Romeo Langford can carry the scoring load for the Hoosiers, he could rise up the board thanks to his elite catch-and-shoot mechanics.
  • West Virginia. The press is fun, and the anchor of it is Segaba Konate, one of college basketball’s best shot blockers who could make his way into the lottery if he progresses as a shooter.