Many media outlets reported last month that the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Draft Lottery, but just because you get the number one pick does not mean you "won" anything.
This year's NBA Draft has a player in Nerlens Noel who has been projected as the top pick since before he enrolled at Kentucky last year. There has been some doubt cast on his place as the sure-fire top pick, as Noel tore his ACL part way through his freshman season. While still rated the top player in the draft class, a torn ACL is a torn ACL and will likely require him to miss some, if not the entire, 2013-14 season.
If a team is set on making Noel the future face of their franchise and building around him then this would not be an issue. Even if Noel were to miss the entire year, the team would be thinking long term and would want him to get back on the court when he is fully healthy and (in the case of Derrick Rose) comfortable. The question is, are the Cavaliers set on Noel as the future?
Cleveland already has young faces to build around. Their superstar is Kyrie Irving, whom they took coming off an injury plagued freshman season, so they are not just looking for a name to sell tickets. They have three big men, two of which are similar build to Noel. Only Anderson Varejao can compare as a shot blocker and defensive presence, but those pieces may already be in place for the Cavaliers.
This is a team that is looking to return to glory and follow the path of the Oklahoma City Thunder to do so. Because of this, a miss with this pick would be crucial. Noel is most people's choice to go first, but Cleveland has to think about themselves. At 6-11, 206-pounds, Noel does not have the frame to bang with some of the bigger centers in the league. While there has been a tendency to go smaller in the NBA, the Miami Heat came within one game of being bounced from the playoffs because they chose finesse over pounding down low.
This is a decision the Cavaliers will have to make, but they would not have had to if they had simply not "won" the first overall pick. If Cleveland had wound up with the second pick, or the third like they were slotted, there would be no need for this discussion.
They would have likely been able to select Ben McLemore – the 6-5 prospect out of Kansas – or Otto Porter, 6-8 from Georgetown. These two not only would potentially fit better with Cleveland's current roster, but are also starting to get discussed as better pro prospects. There is even talk now that Noel may not end up being the best big man to come from this draft, though he is still projected to be taken above all the others.
In his one season at Kansas, McLemore averaged 32.2 minutes, 15.9 points, and two assists per game, while shooting 49.5% from the field. Though he did disappear at some big moments, namely most of the NCAA Tournament, he is expected to be a force as a guard in the NBA. There are many out there who are still not sold on Dion Waiters as the answer at the two guard for the Cavaliers, so McLemore would at least provide another option.
Those who did not like the Waiters pick were likely upset Cleveland did not take Harrison Barnes, as the Cavaliers have lacked a real small forward since LeBron James left. Porter could be that man. Last year as a Hoya, Porter had 16.2 points per game and 7.5 rebounds. In over 35 minutes on the court each night he shot 48% from the field and 42.2% from three-point range. He seems to be the perfect fit for a Cavs team in desperate need of consistent production from their three spot.
While both of these players deserve to be top picks in the draft, and will likely have nice NBA careers, neither of them feels right as the number-one overall pick. The headache for the Cavaliers is what they do now that they have that pick. There is always the option of trading it (check back later this week for more on that), they could go a head and take Noel and hope that he works as well in the pick-and-roll with Irving as he thinks, or take someone else.
Whatever Cleveland chooses to do, the decision would have been made a lot easier if they did not win the lottery. Seems like winning is more difficult than not in this case.
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