What the 2019 draft means for the Cavaliers won’t be clear for some time. Instant reactions and analysis of Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr., the team’s three first-round picks, is already happening. Questions about Garland and Collin Sexton’s fit are inevitable too. There are some roster questions still to be answered for a team that was among the league’s worst last year.
But there’s a skeleton of a plan being put in place by Koby Altman and the rest of the organization. In pairing Sexton and Garland, Cleveland is betting on playmaking and a pairing of two dynamic guards who can create. They might be different enough — Garland comes in as a better shooter than Sexton was as a rookie, while Sexton has roughly a two-inch longer wingspan and ideally will add muscle to his frame — to where you can see how they might be able to work together.
Without saying their names, Altman referenced the partnership of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland. In New York at the draft, Garland cited them directly.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. I think me and Collin [Sexton] will play really well together,” Garland said. “You see Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum playing really well, playing in the playoffs. The future is really bright for us.”
According to Altman, the Cavs became fascinated with Garland after seeing him workout in person in Los Angeles. He also said the team told Sexton, last year’s top pick, that this was an option and that Sexton was receptive to it.
“We’re super excited about Darius,” Altman said. “Is it ideal he only played five games? No, but it doesn’t diminish his talent level. He’s healthy and we’re excited to bring him to town.”
Garland, who only played five games in college due to a meniscus injury, is 100% recovered. He’s also grown to 6’3” and 190 pounds, up from the 6’2” and 175 pounds he was at Vanderbilt.
In taking Garland, it’s also clear the Cavs aren’t concerned with perfect fits in what Beilein calls the Cavs’ ‘renaissance’. At five, Cleveland could have gone with Jarrett Culver or Cam Reddish — two other players they were known to like and filled an obvious need on the wing. But they didn’t, instead going for a player whose fit on the team has some questions. Contrast that with what the Hawks did to trade up and take De’Andre Hunter — a player who fills a clear need on the team — at No. 4. Atlanta saw a need and filled it; Cleveland went the other way.
If there’s a difference, it’s that the Hawks have their franchise talent in place already in Trae Young. It does not appear that the Cavs have that player yet. Garland might be the best chance of finding it.
Selecting Dylan Windler is a move in the opposite direction. Windler, a 6’8” wing, comes into the league as a shooter first and foremost — a skill every team needs. As a senior at Belmont, he shot 42.9 percent on over seven attempts per game. And the Cavs desperately need wings who can shoot, more so than most teams.
Cedi Osman might be a good shooter, but he was streaky last year. Otherwise, the roster is lacking wings that look like foundational pieces moving forward. Having guards like Sexton and Garland (not to forget Jordan Clarkson, at least for now) makes having wings who can catch-and-shoot even more important. Should compliment this roster and what it looks like a year from now.
Trading future second-round picks to get Kevin Porter Jr. is another swing by the Cavs too. The organization thought of him highly throughout the draft process — some had him top-10 on their board, per cleveland.com — and he’s a good value at No. 30. He could be a ball stopper, but perhaps John Beilein’s offense can bring the best out of him. That’s a risk worth taking.
Altman could not talk about Porter Jr., as the trade that brings him to the Cavs can’t be completed until July 6.
If there’s a question coming out of the draft night, it’s what’s going on with J.R. Smith’s contract. The expectation coming into Thursday was that the Cavs would get something for Smith’s contract that needs to shed money. That didn’t happen and now the Cavs may just use it to get under the salary tax line themselves. It’s not a huge loss, as perhaps the market wasn’t all that robust for it, but worth noting that the extra picks the Cavs made did not come from flipping Smith.
“We’re definitely going to investigate what we can do there,” Altman said. “There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we have to do in terms of taking back money. The rest of that being knowing we’re in the tax and my job would be to get us out of the tax.”
Overall, Thursday night looks like it might be a success for the Cavs. It’s not clear yet how any of the three picks will actually. It’ll be a few years before there are clear answers. But on Thursday, Cleveland added pieces to what it hopes is the foundation for this era of the franchise. That’s a step in the right direction.
“The motivation is to give coach Beilein young talent from the start to develop those guys, and we want to utilize coach Beilein right now and give him youthful guys that he can develop right now,” Altman said. “That’s the motivation to bring in three first-round picks — right now.”