The Cavaliers’ overall roster building has been the major critique of the rebuild so far. The Cavs have talent, arguably more so than a few of their fellow Delete Eight members. But none of it really goes well together. All of the young guys (Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr.) are ball-dominant guards, and the Cavs struggled to find effective lineups combining the three. Meanwhile, all of the meaningful veterans (Tristan Thompson, Andre Drummond and Kevin Love) are bigs, and while working them together effectively has been easier, their contract situations create some tough decisions in the future. Cedi Osman and Larry Nance Jr. sit in the middle, and while they both can play the three, neither is an ideal fit there.
The Cavs are missing versatility on the roster that allows them to create effective lineup combinations. The team could really use a few more pieces that can be played in multiple roles, which would allow the team to stagger the use of its primary players more effectively, and create style flexibility. The Cavs this season were pretty predictable in what they were going to have on the floor — two bigs, two ball-handlers, and a high effort, usually overmatched wing at the three. It wasn’t until late in the season that the team tried experimenting with Nance at the three or true small-ball lineups. And while part of that is on John Beilein for not being creative, part of it falls on the roster construction.
In the 2020 NBA Draft, the Cavs could use someone versatile, who can fit in well with their current roster and try to help the team optimize the development of their other young pieces. This is the basis of the “No Guards!” philosophy the team appears to be taking in full. The Cavs need talent above all else, but taking a non-versatile ball-dominant guard and sticking them with their current trio of youngsters is going to end badly.
But that doesn’t mean a guard should be off the table completely — there are options available who could play off-ball, and be good compliments to the players already on roster. The versatility conversation isn’t just about being able to play multiple positions, or play in that integral swing spot on the wing. Instead, complementary skill sets, preferably ones that can play multiple roles in different lineups, is an important goal for the Cavs here too.
Unlike with shooting, there are some very good options for the Cavs to consider if they are prioritizing versatility at the top of the draft. We’ll look at each of them, even if they aren’t good overall fits for the team for other reasons.
First Round Versatility Options
LaMelo Ball, G, Illawarra Hawks
The presumption is that Ball is going to need to be tested out as a scorer eventually, but he’s a good fit with Garland, Sexton and Porter, at least in theory. His primary demand early on isn’t going to be shot creation — it’s going to be the initiation of possessions and actions, and he should be thought of as more of the classical point guard prospect, but in a wing’s body. Next to Sexton, an undersized shot-eater, and Porter, an athletic scoring wing, someone who can create looks for those two while not demanding a high percentage of end-of-possession shots is useful in a way that Garland, who is more of a modern point guard, is not due to how much scoring gives him value. Ball’s value doesn’t really come from that skill — his high-end ceiling is dependent on it, but he’s going to be a productive NBA player if he doesn’t become an elite scorer. His pairing with Garland would also be functional, because he can open up some off-ball opportunities to make use of Garland’s shooting, and would likely help Garland be more useful in transition by adding another excellent open-court passer and ball-handler to try to spring him to the basket on quick-hitters.
There are other reasons not to want Ball (defensive questions, shooting questions, family sanity questions) that are completely valid. But if you’re looking for someone who can work well with all three of the Cavs’ young core pieces, and create some more offensive versatility in the Cavs’ major lineups, he’s a good answer to that question.
Killian Hayes, SG, ratiopharm Ulm
He’s a less optimal fit than Ball because of a likely inability to play the three, but Hayes still provides some good flexibility thanks to his skill set. Hayes is a little rawer in terms of what type of player he’s going to be at the NBA level, but he has some very concrete skills that would compliment the Cavs’ young core — primarily his likely functions as a catch-and-shoot guard, and his high IQ on the defensive end. Hayes looks like a legitimate two-way guard, and his scoring and passing show signs of potential development that could mean he has a future as a scorer as well. Hayes has a small shot at star potential, but he has outlets to become a high-level role player or complimentary starter based on his collection of skills.
Fit-wise, Hayes’s defensive ability and creation potential as a passer would fit well as a wing, especially next to Sexton and Porter. He probably can’t stretch to playing the three regularly, but he could provide similar off-ball creation to Ball, with the bonus of being a plus defender that can defend up a position for stretches. While he gets billed as a point guard, Hayes is more of a quality passer as a two. He could blend the best aspects of Dante Exum and Matthew Dellavedova’s skills as the team’s fourth guard early on, allowing the team to put some functional small lineups together, while creating space for the team to make decisions on Sexton and Garland.
The Wings: Devin Vassell, Deni Avdija, Isaac Okoro
Any of the three wings at the top of the draft would create some versatility for the Cavs’ rotation, because adding another guy who can play major minutes at the three, and potentially some four, gives the team more options than Nance, Porter and Osman. (Dylan Windler exists too.) Any of the these three could unlock a variety of options for the Cavs, lineup-wise. But who is best?
Okoro certainly has a case as a strong defender who is quick enough to stay with most guards, and has the bulk to handle playing some good minutes at the four. He’s a non-shooter right now, but the Cavs do have a reasonable expectation to be a functional offense next year with internal growth and competent coaching alone, so that’s not necessarily a limiting factor — especially when you factor in how well his passing and finishing figure to translate in an offense where he has select, few responsibilities. His defensive versatility makes him a better fit than Avdija from this perspective, because while Avdija has better offensive potential, he is probably almost purely a three on this roster, and doesn’t really offer the same benefits defensively at the four that Okoro would.
Vassell, of course, gives the benefit of his dynamic outside shooting, which neither of the other two can provide, and while he’s not the same versatile defender positionally as Okoro, he’s a brilliant team defender who can really help cover for the other youngsters if they don’t continue to develop, and that provides lineup versatility as well. It’s easier to play Garland and Sexton together if you can task Vassell with guarding the other team’s best on-ball wing creator, and his off-movement shooting would be a huge boon as an outlet for the guards. You can play Okoro in more lineups, but Vassell gives you more options for how you can utilize the young guards together.
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. While versatility is at a premium late in the draft, we can focus on players who fill some gaps in the roster and may find uses in specific lineup combinations such as small-ball fours, three-and-D wings, and creators who can function as off-ball shooters.
Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
While trading into the draft for him or signing him will certainly be a Dan Gilbert Special, Winston would be a great fit in that latter category as a guard who can offer some pick-and-roll creation - but is very useful as an off-movement shooter. Winston handled the ball a lot as Michigan State’s lead guard, but his ability to get sprung off-ball as a shooter and create quality looks off screens could make him an interesting fit off the end of the bench. In lineups that may want to focus on getting KPJ some creative opportunities sans Sexton and Garland, Winston could be an interesting backcourt pairing for him who can complement his skill set while still providing some secondary playmaking options.
Nate Hinton, SF, Houston
Hinton is a nice option to deliver what the top-level wings would aim for, only on the undrafted market. A 38.7% shooter this year, Hinton also rarely makes bad decisions, shoots well off movement, and is an excellent team defender. While he’s not much of an attacking player even off-ball, Hinton has the size and defensive ability to slot into multiple spots on the floor, and can be a nice outlet option for the Cavs’ main attractions at the two or three.
Anthony Lamb, SF, Vermont
An older option that’s likely to be available for a two-way, Lamb is a bulky three who has shown good passing ability and on-ball scoring talent from the post and elbow. If he can translate that into more NBA-style ball-movement in an offense, that passing ability could open up a lot for the Cavs’ bench units to run some more complex sets.
Trevelin Queen, PG, New Mexico State
Like Hayes, Queen is a strong off-ball shooter who can also handle the ball and create for others. He’s a strong defensive prospect as well, and if he gets stronger, could provide much of the same impact from a versatility perspective as Hayes, but on a budget.