Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t win the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday, there are still reasons for excitement. This is an incredibly deep draft at the top, and the fact that this isn’t your typical eighth pick in the NBA Draft gives the Cavs options, regardless of what the team’s future is going to look like. There are a lot of avenues the Cavs can take with this pick that can both help rebuild in a LeBron-less world, and help keep the engine running as we transition out of LeBron James’s prime.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be rolling out profiles of all of the top picks that could be on the table for the Cavaliers to pick at number eight. The draft order definitely isn’t close to set yet, meaning that there’s a lot of wiggle room that can take place in the next month. That means that there are plenty of prospects that the Cavs could conceivably take, depending on how the order shakes out ahead of them. With that in mind, below is Fear the Sword’s official Big Board at this point in the draft process, ranking which prospects would be the best fits in Cleveland at this point. We’ll assume Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton, the two prospects in contention for the Phoenix Suns at the top, have zero shot at becoming Cavaliers. Everyone else, then, is up for grabs.
Tier 1: Run to the podium
- Jaren Jackson Jr, PF/C, Michigan State
I’m a big fan of Jackson, who will likely be long gone by the time the Cavs pick. However, he’s a really good option for a team that’s consistently struggled when they’ve needed a versatile big man next to Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. While it’s en vogue to say that big men aren’t valuable in terms of winning a title, the fact remains that you always need bodies to throw at a Jonas Valanciunas or Aron Baynes underneath, and having a real rim protector would go a long way towards shoring up that regular season defensive efficiency number that we’re so tired of hearing about. There are a lot of big men at the top of this class, and you’ll see many of them on this list because of Thompson’s struggles, and the ways these big men’s skill sets could help the Cavs in the regular season and playoffs.
With that in mind, Jackson is probably the best of those bigs, especially on a contender. He wasn’t singularly dominant like Ayton or Marvin Bagley, but he spent much of the year playing on the weakside of a zone next to Nick Ward at Michigan State, and his skill set is much more valuable as a five than as a four. He showed immense promise as a rim protector and as a defender in space, and he’s by far the smartest team defender in the class, posting the sixth-best defensive box plus/minus ever by a freshman. Offensively, he shows potential as a ball-handler and is a smart passer, and his jumper is probably the second-most established among the big men, behind Wendell Carter Jr.
Jackson has the best potential in the class to be both a high-level offensive and defensive big man. The Cavs haven’t had a player that fit that bill since Zydrunas Ilgauskas was playing, at least, and Jackson would really help the Cavs space the floor with Tristan and give the Cavs a competent pick-and-roll defender, which they desperately need. He’s not a sexy pick, but he’d be extremely valuable.
2. Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke
Bagley would also be a valuable big for the Cavs to add, but his value would mainly come on offense. An elite finisher and offensive rebounder, Bagley was arguably college basketball’s most productive player despite scoring a majority of his points on PNR dives, dunks, and putbacks. But he also flashes some on-ball creation skills, and his jumper steadily improved throughout the season. Next to LeBron, he could be an Amar’e Stoudemire type roll man - without him, he still might be able to progress to the level of scorer that could make him a number one option in the next iteration of Cavs basketball. The problem is defense. Bagley really has no idea what he’s doing there - but his offensive value might be great enough that he can get by until he improves there.
Tier 2: The best realistic options
3. Michael Porter Jr, F, Missouri
Porter’s back injury likely cost him a shot at the top-five, but he was a top-three pick candidate entering the year. That’s because he’s far from the player he showed to be as he tried to shake off the rust at the end of the college season. Porter has a great combination of size and quickness, allowing him to play some small-ball four and as a potential primary initiator. His biggest value comes as a shooter, where his pull-up game is unrivaled among non-guards in this class. He does struggle a little bit with his handle and isn’t the best passer, but the tools are there to develop into a primary scorer. The wild card is his back, which we won’t know the full story on until after the draft, more than likely. But if he’s healthy, he’s perhaps the Cavs’ best shot at a star.
4. Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova
Bridges is probably the draft’s most “NBA-ready” player, to use the old cliche. He has two national titles to his name, and has basically played the role the Cavs would want him to play for Villanova — catch-and-shoot threes, attack closeouts, play smart team defense, and defend the other team’s best wing. Bridges is older than most of the rest of the top ten, but he’s closer to playable in the playoffs, too. If LeBron’s staying, he’d be a valuable commodity by basically combining what the Cavs expected Jae Crowder and Rodney Hood to be. Even if LeBron leaves, versatile two-way wings are the most rare commodity in the draft, and the Cavs could find a place for him in the rebuild. This is a safe pick that would help the Cavs stay a contender without drafting a star talent.
Tier 3: Interesting pieces that don’t really fit with LeBron
5. Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
Young is one of the most divisive players in the draft. Some think he could be one of the draft’s best players, others think he was a flash in the pan that won’t replicate his college success in the pros. He’s a brilliant shooter who can also hit a wide array of passing angles and has good vision. A point guard might be a nice number two next to LeBron, and is a nice building block to winning a title, as well. However, there are concerns about Young’s shot selection, as well as his size — he’s only a hair under 6’1” without shoes, and has a thin frame that will be hard to add mass to. It’s questionable that he’ll ever be the type of finisher that he’ll be required to be to make full use of his shooting. There’s also the concern that he will need to be ball-dominant to be successful, and that could create the same your-turn, my-turn predictability that plagued the LeBron/Kyrie Irving relationship at times. He bumps up a few spots if the Cavs are sure LeBron’s leaving, but there are better fits at this point.
6. Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
Why not try another Texas center to help out Tristan? Bamba is the classic rim protector of the big men, and that could be very valuable to the Cavs to have behind the shell of what’s supposed to be a defense with the current roster. Bamba has great instincts and an imposing physical profile, and while he’s not the quickest or most sound team defender, his length is a great starting point. Offensively is where his fit is questionable - he hints at shooting potential, but is likely just a rim-runner and offensive rebounder, and that’s going to be hard to put on the floor with Thompson. If his footwork and quickness don’t allow him to be an elite rim protector, but just a merely good one, he really doesn’t move the needle.
7. Wendell Carter Jr., C, Duke
Carter could be interesting as a smart team defender and skilled offensive big men, as his shot is probably the most positively projectable and he’s a phenomenal passer and screener. Using his awareness with the rest of the Cavs roster could be awesome on offense. The problem is his athleticism, which likely limits him to being a positive as a help defender but not a true rim protector, and he’s not on par as a rebounder with Bagley or Bamba. Carter’s a player who would be incredibly useful to a lot of team builds, but he’s a player who would thrive in a system that doesn’t ask too much of him, which probably doesn’t make him a good fit here.
Tier 4: Reaches that make sense
8. Miles Bridges, SF/PF, Michigan State
The other Bridges doesn’t have star potential, nor does he have the projection as a likely elite role player. However, the Cavs are a great landing spot for his skill set, because playing in between LeBron James and Kevin Love lets him take full advantage of his biggest strengths. Offensively, Bridges is probably best used as a slasher and floor spacer, and his offensive rebounding ability would be very useful in a five-out system. He’s also a versatile defender, able to hang with forwards on the perimeter and bang with bigs despite his 6’6” frame. Another pick that wouldn’t be sexy, but makes a lot of sense if Bridges, Porter and Young are gone.
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG, Kentucky
SGA is a popular name, both in Draft Twitter and among our commenters. He really came on at the end of the season for Kentucky, asserting himself as the Wildcats’ best NBA prospect thanks to his decision-making, on-ball defense, and off-ball shooting. He’s a very likely high-level role player, and while he’s not incredibly athletic, he could be a nice nominal point guard that plays off ball while LeBron handles. He probably offers nothing as a creator due to his hesitance to shoot off the dribble, though, and that means he has very little value if the Cavs don’t think they’ll have LeBron in the future. In that case, they should instead gravitate towards:
10. Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
Sexton probably doesn’t offer anything to Cleveland if they do keep LeBron James. His future is as a primary initiator, and he needs development to get there, time that the Cavs won’t be able to offer. Instead, he’s a failsafe, a player that the Cavs could allow to work into a strong decision-maker and scorer through a few 20-30 win seasons on a rebuilding team. He’s a fiery competitor and strong finisher, and his shooting and defense are likely better than what he was able to show this year. He’s a fine option, but probably only if the Cavs are planning on rebuilding.
Other Names to Consider: Jontay Porter, C, Missouri, Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky, Jacob Evans, SG, Cincinnati