When building a team that’s in talent acquisition mode like the Cleveland Cavaliers are, there’s always a debate about how much you should consider the fit of a player on your current roster. On one hand, you’re bad enough to need whatever help you can get, and there’s reasonable expectation that when the players you draft hit their prime, no one on your current roster will be around. But on the other, you can easily hit a point of diminishing returns if you have too much overlap of the skill sets of your young players.
What doesn’t get enough consideration is prioritizing when you can fill certain needs through the draft. NBA teams have scouts that keep an eye on not just college, but the high school level as well, and generally have a good idea of what the next one to two years of draft classes may look like. It can be difficult for the front office to look beyond what’s in front of them, but if there’s a relatively weak crop of players at a position one year, and a high likelihood of there being a player you like at the same position the year after, there’s value in addressing other needs first to avoid that overlap situation.
Not following that idea has put the Cavs in a weird spot for the 2020 NBA Draft. They have spent their last two lottery picks on players who are ostensibly point guards. They still look like they’ll be drafting in the top ten this year, another shot to find good talent. What does that talent consist of in this draft? More point guards. This year has one of the deeper crops of potential primary creators we’ve seen in the past few years, and there are a variety of play styles and skill sets available at a position that the Cavs, realistically, cannot pick from. Now, there are still players that are great fits in this class, as you’ll see below. Particularly, there are some interesting wings available that could be great fits for the Cavs current roster. But you like to have options available, especially if you’re picking in the 5th or 6th pick, where the Cavs figure to be once again.
Overall, the 2020 NBA Draft class is much deeper than 2019. Early returns show two potential star prospects in Cole Anthony and Anthony Edwards, and a pretty interesting mid-tier group that is packed with the point guards. Later in the draft, there are several productive specialist wings, who could be brought in to fill a specific NBA role, and it could be a good year for the Cavs to trade back in to the first round, if possible. As we walk through my top 30 prospects as it stands right now, we will focus on the best fits for the Cavs, and introduce the best options for you to keep an eye on. Note: This is my big board ranking in a vacuum, not based on how they fit with the Cavs.
Tier 1 - Star level prospects
1. Cole Anthony, PG, UNC
Anthony has asserted himself as the top player in the class so far, with a slight edge over Edwards due to his advanced pull-up shooting mechanics, willingness to crash the glass, and smarts as an off-ball defender. Even if he doesn’t hit every aspect of his offensive ceiling, it’s a near certainty that he will have utility as an offensive initiator and find a spot on the floor for a team. He should absolutely be on the board for the Cavs despite being a point guard, because he appears to be a much better prospect than Collin Sexton or Darius Garland were, and he has potential to be a good fit with both players when they share the floor, making the juggling of who to keep slightly less awkward.
2. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
The realistic prize for the Cavaliers. Edwards is another primary initiator prospect, but he makes a ton of sense for the team because he has the length to play some three, is an established shooter from outside, and his ability to get into the paint at will would be an opportunity to create good secondary looks for the other guards.
Edwards has some Kobe Bryant to his game in terms of his ability to consistently generate quality shots out of post up situations. Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker get knocked for how they automatically go to this shot at the sacrifice of the rest of the offense, but Edwards is more advanced in terms of the quickness with which he’s able to get into his turnaround, and his ability to leverage his size into shooting over the top of the defender. It also helps that Edwards appears to have a much better grasp of when to go to his scoring toolbox, content to try to manufacture open looks for others in the halfcourt and really saving the good stuff for deadly transition quick-hitters and posting up clear mismatches. There’s very exciting potential with Edwards as a high end scoring prospect, especially as he continues to get stronger and more functional as a driver.
Tier 2 - Probable important core pieces
3. Tyrese Maxey, PG/SG, Kentucky
A very good combo guard with good defensive instincts and some strong off-ball scoring tools. He starts our tour of the point guards who aren’t realistic options for Cleveland, though,
4. LaMelo Ball, SG, Illiwarra Hawks
Ball is definitely not shooting well, but he’s impressed through the first part of the Australian season because of how well his court vision and feel for the game have shone through. He’s flawed, for reasons both on and off the court, but he’s still a 6-7 wing with potential to be an on-ball creator and some defensive versatility when he wants to play that side of the ball. I probably wouldn’t take the risk if I’m Cleveland because the probable coming circus isn’t a good fit in an organization that is trying to be stable, but is very few steps from reverting back to not being that way. But in a vacuum, he’s deserving of a spot in this tier because of how good he could be if everything comes together.
5. Deni Avdija, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
A great fit for what the Cavs need on the wing at this juncture. Avdija, an 18-year old Israeli forward, has a great pedigree as the MVP of multiple junior international tournaments and the fact that he’s playing spot minutes in Euroleague consistently — a tough ask for any young player in a league where coaches bury youngsters in favor of veterans across the board. He’s 6-8 with good strength and fluid mobility, and he’s a great weapon in transition as he finishes well on the break and has the ability to fire crisp passes to the corners if there’s another shooter around when he attacks the rim. Avdija is also one of the more cerebral players in the class, with good team defensive decision-making and the ability to provide some baseline rim protection ability from the weak side. There are major questions about Avdija’s shooting, but he should be an effective slasher and his value on defense would be immense.
6. Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn
Speaking of immense defensive value, Okoro takes Avdija’s defensive capabilities and turns them up a notch because he’s also probably the strongest non-big in this class. Okoro shuts down drives one on one, and his positional versatility, able to probably play up to the five in some lineups, makes him a really interesting projection as a modern NBA frontcourt player. His offense is more limited at this stage, but he’s a capable ball-handler and pick-and-roll finisher, and there’s some projection value based on how his shot looks right now that he could pull things together at the next level. Okoro is this year’s Jarrett Culver — the very good prospect that’s being completely slept on by the mainstream, and who could blossom into being a scheme-changing player if his defensive skills are weaponized as a small-ball five.
7. Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
Incredibly fun player, incredibly bad fit on the Cavs because he’s small, passive on defense, and probably will be a limited finisher at the next level.
8. Killian Hayes, PG, ratiopharm Ulm
A little bit more palatable of an option than Mannion or Maxey because he’s 6-5 and a very strong defensive prospect. But he’s incredibly turnover prone, and probably best served in a little more of an up-tempo system.
9. Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
See Mannion above, only Maledon is a better finisher.
10. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova
The Cavs have killed for athleticism at the four since LeBron left, and Robinson-Earl would be a great target if they end up in the 7-11 range. An efficient finisher and off the catch shooter, Robinson-Earl doesn’t have any real calling cards, but doesn’t have many weaknesses either. The biggest complaint with him right now is that he can’t defend NBA fives due to strength issues, but he’s decent on the perimeter and makes decent team decisions. A perimeter-oriented athlete at the four wouldn’t be the worst fit next to Kevin Love at the five.
11. Oscar Tshiebwe, C, West Virginia
There’s a lot of Tristan Thompson to Tshiebwe’s game, made more interesting because of how strong he is under the basket. Probably not a good Cavs fit, but definitely a fun watch.
12. Wendell Moore, SG, Duke
The mid tier of the draft is where we get our really interesting wings. Moore is the first up because he’s the type who just constantly makes winning plays on defense and with his rebounding. He’s limited on offense, but his positional versatility and ability to put himself into positions to succeed are very valuable.
13. James Wiseman, C, Memphis
Wisemans a fine prospect, he’s just definitely not a top-five level guy, or even a top-ten prospect. He does have good athleticism and touch at the rim, but he struggles to make that athleticism functional. He’s a terrible defender in space because his footwork is bad, and there really isn’t much he offers in a concrete way on offense outside of pick-and-roll finishing. He has the inate play finishing ability of a John Collins type, so you can’t drop him too far, but “John Collins in Mitchell Robinson’s body” is not much more effective in practice than John Collins in John Collins’s body.
14. Aaron Henry, SF, Michigan State
Henry does a lot of the things you want a three to be able to do. He’s an effective catch-and-shoot option, finishes well at the rim, and can make the little passes that make offensive sets flow. Defensively, he has the best hands in the class and is incredibly flexible, making him a really good defender under the basket. If the Cavs end up at pick ten, Henry’s at the top of my wish list.
15. Matthew Hurt, PF, Duke
Put a pin in Hurt, who has the pedigree and skill set to be a top ten player in the class but has been a disaster so far at Duke.
16. R.J. Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers
There’s a lot of Tyreke Evans here, and not in a good way.
17. Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State
Poor man’s Al Horford. Tillman is probably going to be around the 12th or 13th-best center in the league at his peak and will probably find himself constantly on playoff rosters.
18. Aaron Nesmith, PF, Vanderbilt
Put a pin in Nesmith too. Darius Garland’s former teammate has gone nuclear to start the year and looks like a functional modern NBA big. There will be a lot more discussion of Nesmith in the future if this non-conference outburst is his new normal.
19. Jaden McDaniels, PF, Washington
A great upside play banking on the idea of him becoming more functional as a scorer if he adds strength. I wouldn’t draft him tenth, but he can definitely fill a role as an athletic finishing forward with some ball-handling ability.
20. Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Still can’t shoot or finish, really, but he’s a very solid game manager.
21. Isaiah Joe, SG, Arkansas
The first really interesting Cavs fit in the back end of the first round, Joe is a dynamic off-movement shooter with size who would be a breath of fresh air from a spacing perspective. He’s not as versatile as other shooting prospects in recent years, but he’s going to be very coveted by fans looking for quick shooting help.
22. Neemias Queta, C, Utah State
A project, but a very good rim protector who also adds some passing ability.
23. Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis
Achiuwa has kept Memphis clicking in James Wiseman’s absence, and his defensive versatility and spark plug nature are why. He seems tailor made for a James Johnson-type role as a bench forward who props up second units defensively.
24. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC
The best pure shot blocker in the class, but he can be a little too block-chasing to confidently project as a starter-level big at this point.
25. Amar Sylla, SF, Oostende
A cult favorite because of his athleticism and pure tools on defense, but of all the defense-first wings in this draft, he’s the biggest offensive project.
26. Filip Petrusev, C, Gonzaga
Petrusev checks all of the Serbian big man boxes. Huge? Check. Bone-crushing screens? Check. Suprising mobility? Check. Great touch? Check.
27. Trevelin Queen, PG, New Mexico State
A dynamite efficient guard getting absolutely zero attention despite being 6-6 with great court vision.
28. Josh Green, SG, Arizona
The athleticism and shooting are there, but he’s a technique project on both ends.
29. Devin Vassell, PF, Florida State
Your yearly entrant in the “power forward with outlier shooting who also plays multiple positions on defense” category. We will see how well that skill set holds up in the NBA, because it usually doesn’t.
30. Myles Powell, PG, Seton Hall
A supernova in waiting that is a great pull-up shooter and underrated passer. Destined for the Jalen Brunson backup point guard role.