It may feel weird to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers need to target improved playmaking through the draft, having spent their last two first-round picks on point guards. But that’s exactly where the Cavs find themselves. The Cavs were 24th in assists per game last season, averaging 23.1 per game. They were also 23rd in assist rate, with 57.3% of the team’s baskets coming via an assist While you don’t have to be an elite passing team to be good —the Warriors were first in assist rate this season, the Rockets 29th — it helps create more efficient scoring for a team that lacks an elite initiator or on-ball shot creation across the board. As good as Collin Sexton and Kevin Love are, they aren’t Luka Doncic, James Harden, or Trae Young as offensive hubs, and that means the team needs to take a more egalitarian approach to become more effective offensively.
Now, much of the improvement in the playmaking department for the team will come internally, which is good. The bad thing about having a bunch of young guards is that they’re usually bad; the good thing is that they get better. Sexton already spent much of last season growing as a passer. Darius Garland now can play at NBA speed, which will help. Throw in improvement from Kevin Porter Jr. and any offseason additions the Cavs will make, and the team should be in a better spot than they were last season in passing. It’s a reasonable expectation that internal growth from Sexton and Garland. A full offseason of getting J.B. Bickerstaff’s offense down should help.
However, that’s not to say that the team can’t still use good passers across the board, and it should still be a target for the 2020 NBA Draft. Passing is like shooting — you cannot have too many guys who are good passers. It makes the game easier if you do have a team full of cerebral playmakers. And drafting a playmaker doesn’t mean just drafting a guard — if you can find a Love-style elbow creator or a Iman Shumpert-like accessory passer, that accomplishes the same goal without creating a positional overload on the roster.
With those things in mind, our discussion of options today will focus on players who aren’t ball-dominant lead guards, but could still improve the playmaking of the team. Continuing the conversation about versatility, we’re trying to find good fits with the Cavs’ other players, not just taking the best playmaker on the board.
First Round Playmaking Options
LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawarra Hawks
As we discussed with regards to Ball’s versatility, his open court playmaking is the single biggest reason for the Cavs to draft him. Too often the Cavs’ fast break opportunities are one-on-three or one-on-four affairs, with Sexton or Porter putting their heads down and trying to drive their way to the basket on the break.
While that works for them, some diversity would be nice, outside of Love outlet passes, and that’s what Ball could provide as a transition ball-handler. His passing as a secondary creator in the half court would also be of significant use, as the team could build sets around Ball attacking from the wing after a primary action and using his elite court vision to find the dump-off option the defense has left open. His size allows him to not overlap significantly with the roles of Sexton, Garland or Porter. Plus, a role where he’s not the primary initiator from day one would help him iron out some of his more concerning scoring weaknesses. Ball is the best playmaker in the class, and would add a dimension to the Cavs’ offense as a wing secondary passer that we haven’t seen in a long time.
Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
We’ve discussed Killian Hayes already from a versatility context, and his strengths as a playmaking offensive fit mirror Haliburton’s. He’s someone who can slot into a less ball-dominant role, create well out of pick-and-rolls, and provide some transition and secondary passing in offensive sets. Both are a clear step behind Ball as passers, too, and neither has the size that Ball offers. So while I like Hayes’ fit better overall, Haliburton is the better fit in the playmaking context.
I have more faith in Haliburton being able to blend in off-ball effectively than I do Hayes, thanks to his advanced off-ball shooting. He’s almost assuredly a secondary creator only, thanks to his weaknesses as a driver and isolation scorer, and that works well with Sexton and Garland available to try to make that happen. Haliburton would be most useful as a caretaker backup to the main core, working to prop up the more limited bench players he’d likely be paired with in Sexton or Porter-heavy units. If the Cavs fall to six, you could do worse than opting for Haliburton.
Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn
The most underrated aspect of Okoro’s game is his creation ability as a passer in driving situations. Okoro’s best outlet to offensive utility is by using his combination of elite finishing touch and good court vision to keep possessions going when he attacks closeouts, and while that’s of limited utility overall, it’s a way to compensate for the lack of shooting threat — you can give him space because he won’t pull from deep, but not that much, because he will finish on you if given a head of steam, and has the vision to get out of a jam if you pack the paint in response.
Now, don’t get me wrong — this is a significantly less functional and more tedious path to offensive value than simply “learning to shoot even passably.” But it’s the toolbox Okoro brings to the table, and it does actually fit with the Cavs’ needs. Passing isn’t why you draft him, but it’s a nice bonus if the Cavs can actually turn the shooting around.
Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton
Toppin isn’t an ideal fit for the Cavs, but his playmaking could actually be of use. He’s never going to be a good passer out of drives, as he gets tunnel vision. But as a short roll or post-up passer, Toppin’s pretty solid, with good reaction time to seeing help arrive and good understanding of necessary reads in an offensive set. In addition to his pick-and-roll finishing, which would be a boon to the production of the guards, Toppin would be a nice facilitator of extra passes in the offense, which is what we’re aiming for here.
The always fluid late-draft positioning is going to mean second-round level prospects might fall out of the draft and be on the table for the Cavs to pick up as free agents. This is where guard depth might be best addressed, as the Cavs could take a flier on one of the many point guards that figure to go in the back half of the draft. With so many options on the board, someone good should slip through the cracks, and it’s worth the upside of that happening for the Cavs to aim to pick up their fourth or fifth guard on the two-way market. Because passing is at a premium late in the draft among wings and bigs (If you can do that, you’re ranked higher), let’s focus on the many, many guards who could be on the table for the Cavs on the undrafted market, ranked by passing ability.
Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Duke’s game manager made Cassius Stanley look like a viable NBA option, so he has to rank pretty highly here.
Yam Madar, PG, Israel
An advanced pass-and-cut guard who is quickly rising up the boards of scouts. Madar is probably the best fit for the Cavs’ off-ball passing needs.
Malachi Flynn, PG, San Diego State
Skylar Mays, PG, LSU
A good ball-handler with average court vision and passing technique.
Myles Powell, PG, Seton Hall
A good open court passer, but you draft him for the pull-up shooting, and the cavs really don’t need someone as ball-dominant as Powell figures to be.
Ty-Shon Alexander, PG, Creighton
More of a drive-and-kick point guard, Flynn has some good value as a defender for his size, too.
Peyton Pritchard, PG, Oregon
You pick up Pritchard more for his shooting ability than anything else. He’s a point guard in title only at the NBA level.
Ashton Hagans, PG, Kentucky
Good vision, horrible technique as a passer.
Markus Howard, PG, Marquette
Basically a 5’9” shooting guard.