Barring any trades, the Cleveland Cavaliers are set to pick at No. 5 and No. 26 in the 2019 NBA Draft after a disappointing outcome in the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. The Cavs will be missing out on Zion Williamson, the one true potential franchise-changer in the draft. But they still will have a top-five pick and two shots at adding potential rotation players for their rebuild.
There’s a lot of talk about the Cavs making a trade ahead of the draft on Thursday. But especially given that the Anthony Davis domino has fallen, that is probably outlandish at this point. Potential that the Cavs could trade up to the third pick, or deal the fifth pick for a combination of the Atlanta Hawks’ three first-rounders, are probably not realistic, and will largely be contingent upon who ends up going where at the top of the draft. We’re going to mostly ignore that possibility here, although the middle of our rankings will address the best options for the Cavs should they land at 10 or 17.
A reminder of the rules we’re operating by for this big board, updated from the last time we ranked prospects:
- The Cavs would obviously take Zion Williamson and consider Ja Morant if available. But, picking fifth, it’s incredibly unlikely they will be. They aren’t listed below, but R.J. Barrett is, in the event that the Cavs do pull some shenanigans with the New York Knicks on draft night.
- 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.
- We’re also valuing players based on their fit with the team, not just in a vacuum. If you take nothing else from my draft philosophy, remember my favorite phrase: “The best player available in a vacuum that is certain to clash with the play style or roster of your team isn’t actually the best player available.” Remember that when you see where Darius Garland is ranked.
- Centers are basically useless to the Cavs. They have about half their cap tied into Kevin Love, Larry Nance and Tristan Thompson. John Henson is on the roster. 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.
- This list is in order of players I would value for the Cavs regardless of the pick they’d use for them. There is zero shot the Cavs will consider P.J. Washington, for example, because he’d be an insane reach at five and won’t be on the board at 26. But he’s still on here.
With that in mind, here are the top-30 prospects for the Cavs as we head into draft night.
1. 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. The Cavs can get him to improve their defense in the first few years of his contract and give him the time to grow as a shooter and ball-handler.
2. R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke
Barrett’s probably closer to the secondary option type that the Cavs are really longing for, but he has enough blemishes elsewhere that he still sits behind Culver on my wish list. In particular, developing his defense is going to be an incredible undertaking, and there is enough question about whether his skill set is suited to be anything but a lead ball-handler, and whether or not he’ll be good enough as a creator to warrant giving up what he’ll give up. Functionally he’s still about on the same level as Culver for me and I’d be thrilled with either, but Culver is still who I would rather bet on.
3. De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia
The poor man’s Culver. Hunter offers floor spacing, accessory playmaking, and has a high ceiling as an on-ball defender who can switch.
4. Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga
A big, sure, but Clarke offers the rare ability to be a five on offense and a four on defense, and could help maximize Kevin Love. Quietly posted one of the most productive college seasons ever this year and combines that with outstanding athleticism and shooting upside.
5. Coby White, PG, UNC
The fit with Sexton is clunky for all of the top guards, but White’s is the best because of his comfort as a table-setter who can play in an off-ball role, and he will probably be a competent to good defensive point guard. I’d rather draft him than Morant for the Cavs.
6. Cameron Reddish, SG, Duke
As long as you calibrate your expectations correctly, Reddish could be a solid rotation piece. He should be a quality defender and off-ball spacer if he’s not pushed into a scoring role he probably isn’t talented enough for.
7. Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee
“What if Jae Crowder was good in Cleveland?” is probably Williams’s fit. If you liked Nwaba, Grant Williams figures to play a similar role with more offensive value and honestly, he might be a better defensive prospect too because of his strength and instincts.
8. Bol Bol, C, Oregon
If the Cavs are going to swing for a home run, this is who to do it on. If healthy and placed into an optimized role for his skill set (playing as a mutant wing on offense and as a drop coverage big on defense), Bol could end up available at No. 26, and if so he would absolutely be worth a gamble.
9. Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
Pretty much every projected skill for Langford in the NBA is underdeveloped and based heavily on high school performance. There’s potential for him to hit, especially if his shooting rebounds once he’s fully recovered from his thumb injury. He firmly should be considered a development project though.
10. Sekou Doumbouya, PF, Limoges
If Doumbouya’s improvement post-injury is real, he may actually be in play for the Cavs. Yet another athletic four that can play some three and fill defensive holes.
11. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
A 6’2” guard with okay-to-good playmaking instincts, a thin, small frame, and minimal experience channeling his scoring talent into productive team offense. We already have one of those, and while David Zavac was more non-committal, I see no good outcome coming from pitting Sexton and Garland against each other in the rotation.
12. P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky
Definitely underrated among the forward crop. Washington should be able to play the three a fair amount thanks to his shooting and passing, and he could be a really nice bench wing/small-ball four.
13. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Virginia Tech
The best realistic scenario for the No. 26 pick. NAW is a solid, unspectacular combo guard who feels destined to be a productive seventh man on a playoff team.
14. Cameron Johnson, SF, UNC
Tall guys who can shoot off movement don’t grow on trees, nor do they exist outside of Johnson in this class. I’m skeptical he can be a functional NBA defender but still he fits a valuable player type.
15. Matisse Thybulle, SG, Washington
Few better compliments for Sexton exist than installing 2-3 Zone Skynet as their primary point of attack defender and hoping their staff can get his jumper in a better place. He’ll probably be gone by No. 26, but he’d be a phenomenal fit at the two.
16. Chuma Okeke, SF, Auburn
If you can commit to the rehab, Okeke is probably one of the best defensive wings the Cavs can realistically draft at 26. The rim-protection and switchability he can offer makes him a solid fit next to Kevin Love at the 3 or 4.
17. Talen Horton-Tucker, SF, Iowa State
A mostly theoretical player, THT has immense defensive potential and enough playmaking ability to be enticing to lottery teams. The Cavs would definitely have time to develop his scoring and defense. He’ll probably be gone before 26.
18. Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC
Pros: Good step-back jumper, athleticism, and a high ceiling if his ball-handling improves. Cons: He’s probably just a more athletic Jordan Crawford without the insane confidence.
19. Terence Davis, SG, Ole Miss
A realistic option at No. 26, Davis mostly tore apart the scouting circuit because of his playmaking/athleticism/competitive fire combination wrapped up in one of the draft’s Thickest, Jackedest Frames. A senior with a pretty high ceiling as a complimentary piece.
20. Nassir Little, F, UNC
A bad decision-maker on defense and limited offensive player, Little has a ton of talent and no real functional outlets for it. He’d be a worthy pick at No. 26 but it’s going to be a long time before he’s a functional player, if ever.
21. Ty Jerome, SG, Virginia
He’s basically the exact foil of Jordan Clarkson, which probably means he won’t be particularly good, but the Cavs might be one of the best draft fits for him.
22. Eric Paschall, PF, Villanova
A thick-bodied four who makes good decisions and is one of the draft’s most established shooters from NBA range. He’s probably not quick enough to play much three but his fit at the four could be useful for the Cavs offense.
23. Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky
A complete ball of clay that isn’t particularly good at anything but looks the part. I’m not convinced he’s not just James Young, but I also was not convinced James Young was entirely bad at Kentucky.
24. Josh Reaves, SG, Penn State
Thybulle without the laser defense system. He’s massively underrated for his point of attack defense, meaning the Cavs can probably get him on an undrafted basis.
25. Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont
A tall elite shooter, but you can probably do better at 26.
26. Yovel Zoosman, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Draft-and-stash in the first round isn’t entirely palatable, but Zoosman reminds of Cedi Osman in frame and defensive play, so he’s enticing just because of that.
27. Jaylen Nowell, SG, Washington
A secondary handler with some shooting upside, Nowell might be a good long-term upside play, but like Reaves is likely to be available after the draft.
28. Ignas Brazdeikis, SF, Michigan
Probably just a complimentary bench scorer, but he knows John Beilein’s system and Beilein already maximized his limited frame and athleticism in college.
29. Deividas Sirvydis, SG, Lietuvos Rytas
More than likely a draft-and-stash prospect as well, but Sirvydis probably has more questions keeping him from the NBA than Zoosman.
30. Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue
One of the best shooting gravity options in the draft as a secondary ball-handler, but it’s hard to see him doing much else to let him succeed with a smaller usage at the NBA level.