Much of the focus for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ draft needs focuses on the fifth overall pick. That’s the Cavs’ best chance to add talent, especially in a weak draft. But they also have the No. 26 overall pick, and the Cavs could stumble into a decent rotation player if things break correctly. The team probably isn’t going to add star talent this year, but they also are missing a lot of basic pieces that go into creating a winning roster. And while the class isn’t deep with NBA-ready rotation players, there are players who could be improvements over the current roster situation.
The Cavs were one of the worst defensive teams ever last season, in part because of the lack of a coherent strategy, and partially because the roster was extremely limited. There were bright spots, particularly Larry Nance Jr., David Nwaba and Jaron Blossomgame. But the Cavs overall were a complete sieve on defense, especially when Tristan Thompson was out with injury. In particular, the Cavs need perimeter defensive help, and could really use a player that can switch in the backcourt, saving Collin Sexton, or take over minutes at the four defensively, keeping Cedi Osman from having to absorb that responsibility.
The Cavs will have options to fill that role with the pick they acquired from the Rockets. The 2019 NBA Draft class actually has a decent stockpile of potential defenders later in the draft, and the Cavs should have good options to acquire a competent defensive wing with the Rockets pick. Here are five such options that the Cavs could consider, should they focus on this need at that spot.
Matisse Thybulle, SG, Washington
Steal and block rates have been shown to be inclusive stats for projecting NBA defense. Not all high steal and block rate players make it as defenders in the league, but all good NBA defenders for the most part excelled at forcing blocked shots or steals at the college level. Therefore, it seems relevant that Thybulle broke the steal and block rate metrics last year, combining a 6.7 steal rate with an 8.4 block rate. The highest steal rate for a player with a block rate as high as Thybulle’s ever is 4.9; the highest block rate ever for a player with a steal rate as high as Thybulle’s is 2.4. Thybulle played in a zone, which may have been a perfect use of his skill set. But that definitely doesn’t explain all of Thybulle’s production.
Thybulle’s value as a team defender is really high, as he’s a player who can help communicate actions and anticipate and disrupt from the weak side. He is one of the best players we’ve seen at leaping out and picking off passes, and he is a pretty good transition weapon too, which brings his turnover production ever more valuable.
Thybulle might not be available for the Cavs, but he’s one of the best defensive prospects in the draft. And if he’s available, the Cavs would do a disservice not taking him to help clean up messes on defense.
Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn
Okeke tore his ACL in the Elite Eight, but he brings a lot of defensive value at the three and four spots. A 6’8” wing with good length and powerful upper body, Okeke also brought a good havoc rate at the college level, posting a 3.7 steal rate and a 5.5 block rate. He’s particularly adept as a weakside shot blocker, and even big guys like Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield had a very difficult time dislodging him and beating him to get to the rim:
Okeke’s premier value is defensive versatility, as he’ll be able to switch onto fours and even some NBA fives, and does a good job of staying disciplined defending the pick and roll. He will need time to get healthy, but Okeke could plug a lot of holes in the frontcourt of the Cavs’ defense.
Mfiondu Kabengele, PF, Florida State
Kabengele has been a riser in recent weeks thanks to his athleticism, and he’s the premier energy guy in this draft class. Kabengele is a berserker on defense — he’s not always in the right spot, but he’s going to constantly be doing things, and doing them very hard:
Kabengele isn’t a high ceiling player, mostly because he’s a black hole on offense that’s also a non shooter. But he’s a very aggressive, talented defensive player. He is a very good defensive rebounder as well, using his instincts and strength to clear space and fight for boards. He has a future as a very talented backup for someone.
Yovel Zoosman, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Zoosman is considered a draft-and-stash prospect, but he’s ready to come over now, based on his defensive ability he showed in Euroleague this year. A good-sized wing with good agility, Zoosman shows advanced technique containing opponents on drives, and appears to have the makings of being a good team defender, as well. In particular, his ability to stick with high level Euroleague wings bodes well for his ability to switch onto twos and threes.
What an impressive block by Yovel Zoosman. Cory Higgins blew by him earlier in the game but Zoosman is able to stay with Higgins here on the drive & blocks the shot w/ his left hand— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) June 3, 2019
Besides getting blown by earlier in the game, Zoosman's defense was really impressive in this one pic.twitter.com/OOBKLjFiGl
Zoosman’s not the same type of dynamic defender that the three players above are, but he’s solid and dependable, and should be able to be the same at the NBA level. Throw in that aesthetically he plays very similarly to Cedi Osman, and that’s a bonus for him ending up on the Cavaliers as well.
Charles Matthews, SG, Michigan
Matthews is probably the most limited offensive player on this list, even more so than Kabengele. He doesn’t have consistency with his jumper, and he lacks the court vision to be a good passer or the size to be a consistent finisher. He’ll likely go somewhere in the second round because of that. But his perimeter defense is among the best in the class, and there’s a possibility that this could keep him in the league while he attempts to develop his offensive game.
Matthews is an incredibly attentive team defender, and always sits in the right spot off ball:
Taking Matthews might be a reach, but they could definitely use him to defend the point of attack and take pressure off Collin Sexton. Perhaps if the Cavs end with a second round pick via a trade or a purchase, he’ll could be an option then.
There’s also the familiarity aspect, as he knows what John Beilein’s tendencies are and would help keep the perimeter defense humming with good communication. He’s probably a last resort option (he might be available in the undrafted market after all) but there’s probably more upside to the Cavs picking Matthews than most teams.