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Why getting the Rockets pick matters for the Cavaliers

First round picks are important, but the Cavaliers have an opportunity in 2019 that makes it even more important.

West Virginia v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers had a successful trade deadline for their goals. Using packages of their clear trade chips — Rodney Hood and Alec Burks — the Cavs were able to pull away a couple of young pieces in Marquese Chriss and Nik Stauskas (until they flipped the latter), and gained a couple of future second-round picks. The most coveted return piece was a lottery protected 2019 first-round pick from the Houston Rockets from the Burks trade, which is almost guaranteed to convey given that the Rockets are four full games up on the Kings in the Western Conference standings.

Having two first-round draft picks in a draft is great for a rebuilding team because it’s another lottery ticket in the quest to assemble key core pieces that can help push the team out of the cellar. While their own pick is more important — getting the chance to take the players perceived as potential stars is preferable to sifting through projects and probable role players — the second pick can end up being just as valuable if used on a player who your culture and development system can draw the most out of.

In rare cases it can be an effective hedge against missing on an earlier pick — like Portland landing Nicolas Batum covering for taking Jerryd Bayless earlier in the 2008 NBA Draft — but more importantly, the supplemental picks end up being just as important to winning as the big names. You need the star to drive your offense and defense, but you need the role players to execute the secondary and tertiary decisions and plays. And with the sliding salary scale, unearthing a cost-controlled role player hat can help the team play consistent strong basketball is huge.

It’s especially huge in the 2019 NBA Draft, which is a class that does not have much in the way of fundamental agreement about who to value. The draft class gets a bad rap for being weak, but what it really is is light at the top. The list of players worth a top-five pick in a vacuum probably stops at two for the consensus — R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, and the number of players in this class who would have been top-ten picks last year probably ends after those two as well. But the middle class of the 2019 draft is actually quite large — there are probably 20 players outside of the top two that you could argue as potential lottery guys, and not every one of those guys are going to be rated equally by NBA teams. That puts the Cavs in a pretty good spot even if the Houston pick ends up in the 24-27 range. Someone good is going to fall based on how different teams value these mid-tier guys, and there’s a lot of players available who can help this team.

In particular, the draft is heavy on one of the Cavs’ biggest need areas: wings who can handle, make good decisions and defend up to the four in small-ball lineups. They come in different shapes and sizes, of course, but the list of talented players who could slot at the two or three next to the Cavs’ current core pieces is a pretty long one. Want to go all in on athleticism and scoring potential? The Cavs could get Kevin Porter Jr. to land with them, or reach a bit for Luguentz Dort. How about high-IQ skill guys? Ignas Brazdeikis of Michigan could make sense. Defensive menaces Josh Reaves and Matisse Thybulle could relieve Collin Sexton of point of attack duty on defense. Or, they could try out Jae Crowder again —but with better awareness and ball handling ability — in Tennessee’s Grant Williams.

Not all of these guys are great fits for the Cavs’ roster, and it’s far from a sure thing that they all work out, or even that they all come out for the 2019 NBA Draft. However, the Cavs now have options for how to use a pick, something they arguably haven’t had since the 2013 Draft when they landed Sergey Karasev at No. 19. When you’re chasing a title, you need a specific type of player that can provide impact right away from your draft picks, or you really need those draft picks to be veterans, instead. When you only have a top pick, it feels like you have a lot more options, but you don’t always do — there’s pressure from fans and media to go with the consensus top player, and there are really only a few players to reasonably choose from, and then you have to force that player into what you want your team to be. Picking in the middle allows you to really do your homework and find an ideal player for your roster, and reaching is more okay.

The prerequisite of making a good pick is doing your homework and having a plan. We still don’t have great evidence that the Cavs will do either. But if they do, there’s a lot of value that this pick could end up bringing.