The NCAA Tournament kicks off next week, and this is the time when most NBA fans will start fully tuning in for NBA Draft season. Many fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers have already been focused on this for months, but I’m not going to fault you if you haven’t been watching a ton of college basketball until now. Regardless of which camp you fall into, some direction on who to focus on as you try to digest as much college basketball as the tournament offers is probably smart. To do that, we’re rolling out our rankings of prospects that the Cavs should target in June.
Now, the Cavs have two picks in the first round, so we’re going to hit on options for both picks, in continuous fashion. The way that this draft looks, there might be players that have top-10 value in the class when it’s all said and done that are available at the Cavs’ second pick, a la 2013 when Rudy Gobert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Andre Roberson arguably became top-10 players in the class despite being picked in the 20s. So you’ll see players in the top 15 of this list who will definitely be there when the Cavs pick, while players that I wouldn’t touch with a top-40 pick may go in the lottery (Hello, Rui Hachimura!).
A few notes on how this list is laid out, which will shed some light on my draft philosophy and assessment of the Cavs’ needs.
- Feel for the game and decision-making are rated more highly than raw athleticism. Size, strength and length matter to a degree, but among similar prospects, I’m taking the guy who has demonstrated the ability to execute NBA concepts. Give me Grant Williams over Rui Hachimura. Give me Matisse Thybulle over Kevin Porter Jr. Give me De’Andre Hunter over Nassir Little.
- Centers are basically useless to the Cavs. They have about half their cap tied into Kevin Love, Larry Nance and Tristan Thompson. Ante Zizic is under contract next year. There’s no place for centers on this board unless they’re so uniquely talented that at a certain point it’s not worth passing on them. (There’s one center on this board)
- This class is very big on fours that have perimeter skills, a piece the Cavs absolutely could use. “Who can we get to replace David Nwaba when he gets paid” is an overarching theme for the Cavs’ second pick.
Here’s our 30-man prospect list for the Cavs to target in the 2019 NBA Draft.
1. Zion Williamson, PF, Duke
The best player in the class by a country mile. Take him and figure out the fit later.
2. R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke
Barrett might not be the star prospect he was billed as in high school, but he’s a foundational scoring prospect who can likely take over the primary load and put Collin Sexton in a secondary role.
3. Jarrett Culver, SF, Texas Tech
At worst, he’s a competent role player who raises the floor of the team. At best, he’s a Rip Hamilton or Joe Johnson type that can be a 1B or secondary option that carries the Cavs on their next playoff run.
4. Coby White, PG, UNC
I’m not necessarily advocating for drafting White in the top-five. I think instead that he’s a player who is a beautiful fit next to Sexton as a facilitator who can play some two, and he might be available at the Cavs’ second pick if intel-based mock drafts are to be believed.
5. De’Andre Hunter, PF, Virginia
What I said about Culver, but with a lower ceiling. Plug him in as a rotation player for the future.
6. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Another point guard who can draft off Sexton because of his off-ball shooting and facilitation. He’s also a competent defender. You’re giving up size, but making that up with offensive creation.
7. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
I will flesh this out eventually, but I have Morant below the other point guards because I think he is going to take a long time to develop into a competent NBA player due to lack of strength and raw decision-making. When he does get there, he’ll overlap with Sexton’s skill set. He’s talented, but there are better options available.
8. Bol Bol, C, Oregon
I think that he can play functionally as a wing on offense and five on defense, which would be incredibly valuable. Even with the injury risk, I think Bol is worth a flier because of his unique combination of length, shooting and touch.
9. Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
Development project on the wing with the goal of building a secondary creator. Langford is going to be a project though and that likely means the Cavs are pretty bad next year with a Sexton/Langford backcourt.
10. Cam Reddish, SG, Duke
I like him as a defensive prospect, but I don’t know what he reliably does at the NBA level on offense. He’s also likely to be overvalued on that end and might fail because of it. Avoid.
11. Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee
The Cavs’ second best-case scenario at the Rockets pick behind Coby White. A solid passer that can finish on and off-ball, shoot threes, and switch on defense, he’s a thicker Cedi near his floor and a small Al Horford at his ceiling.
12. Nassir Little, SF, UNC
I’m higher on him than most due to his athleticism and demeanor, but he’s a development project that is going to take a lot of time to become functional.
13. Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga
Great rim protecting four with solid finishing efficiency. He’d have a clunky fit on the roster but is very, very likely to be a role player on a winning team in three years.
14. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Virginia Tech
A pure secondary creator who can score out of the pick-and-roll efficiently and should be a capable defender at the two. The Cavs could definitely use that.
15. P.J. Washington, SF, Kentucky
He’s a four at Kentucky, but will play mostly three at the NBA level to be effective. He has enough complimentary playmaking ability and shooting touch that I think he’ll have good success at small forward, especially if he gets to play off a creation four like Kevin Love.
16. Sekou Doumbouya, PF, Limoges
Incredibly raw, but also pretty impressively skilled. Doumbouya would be a good long-term development option if the Cavs could fix his shot.
17. Matisse Thybulle, SG, Washington
A probable future All-Defense candidate, Thybulle is going to make a team very happy if he’s picked around where the Cavs will be picking. I just don’t trust them to be the team that turns him into a productive offensive player.
18 Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Questions about his shot worry me enough that he’s down here even though I like him more in a vacuum. It’s just tough to see him and Sexton working together viably.
19. Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky
Physically impressive and talented, but he just doesn’t do anything particularly exciting. If he’s the Cavs’ second pick, he’s a good development option. The problem is he might be their first pick if they end up at the No. 7 spot.
20. Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC
Probably won’t be available and that’s probably good because he’s a long-term project likely to be fed too much responsibility early on by the Cavs.
21. Ignas Brazdeikis, SF, Michigan
An incredibly smart and skilled three that has absolutely zero athleticism. He has a hard ceiling that is likely as a sixth or seventh man, but could be a very good one of those.
22. KZ Okpala, PF, Stanford
Older, stronger Keldon Johnson. Not particularly interested.
23. Deivydas Sirvydis, SF, Lietuvos Rytas
Sergey Karasev, but without the attitude problems. That’s probably a good NBA player, there will just be better fits on the board.
24. Yovel Zoosman, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Bigger Cedi with a higher defensive ceiling. He’s a draft-and-stash option that absolutely could play in his rookie year if he came over.
25. Terence Davis, SF, Ole Miss
A bullish, athletic wing with good on-ball defense. He’s a great target if the team buys a second-rounder.
26. Josh Reaves, SG, Penn State
A first-round level talent likely to go undrafted due to size and lack of offensive skill. The Cavs can get him for free.
27. Talen Horton-Tucker, SF, Iowa State
Another player likely to be over-drafted if he comes out due to raw skill set and length. Avoid.
28. Ayo Dosunmu, PG, Illinois
Athletic defense-minded point guard that flashes a good offensive ceiling, too. He’s a project, but one I’d bet on in the second round.
29. Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. Johns
Volume scoring point guard that’s likely to be a quality backup. Good failsafe option if the Cavs end up looking at a bunch of raw wings and bigs when the Rockets pick ends up around No. 28.
30. D’Marcus Simonds, SG, Georgia State
Super-athletic raw wing with great finishing ability. Like Reaves, likely to be available for free.