I guess this is why the NBA Draft is such a Jekyll and Hyde experience for so many people. Perhaps in no other sports annual draft do you constantly feel like you’re just witnessing one big crapshoot. Mock Drafts are ripped to shreds, usually by about the 5th or 6th pick, and by the time you get to #30, where the Cavaliers were picking, anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s.
The first 2 picks last night were of no surprise, as Blake Griffin went to the Clippers and Hasheem Thabeet went to the Grizzlies. Pick 3 is where the interest began. With rumors of Oklahoma City seriously shopping the pick, they ended up keeping it and taking James Harden, setting up a chain of events that led to Tyreke Evans going 4th to the Kings. It was about this time the Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst had this to say on his Twitter account:
If Rubio slips to Minnesota at No. 5, look for Cavs to try to get the Wolves No. 18 pick.
Consequently, that was also the time I began to get my hopes up that maybe the Cavaliers were going to find themselves a player who could actually come in and really contribute right away. Presumably, the guy the Cavaliers would be targeting at would be someone like Ty Lawson, or even perhaps Sam Young. When Evans went 4th and the Wolves took Rubio at 5, I started to get excited.
My jubilation was quite misplaced, though, as I would soon find out. When the Wolves’ pick at 18 came up, they did indeed take their 3rd PG of the night in Ty Lawson, and my heart jumped. Surely the Wolves just made that pick to trade to the Cavs, right? Almost. They traded the pick alright, but instead of Danny Ferry making the move, it was the Denver Nuggets who had pulled the trigger.
Perhaps the Cavs really wanted Sam Young, and with guys like Wayne Ellington, DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Patrick Mills all still available, perhaps Ferry was content to wait a few picks and save some money while still getting a guy they liked who could help the Cavaliers this season. It was shortly thereafter that Windhorst tweeted again, this time saying:
It is possible the Cavs could flop with any of these teams and move up. Sam Young is there if they want him.
Ok, hope was alive again. After watching a guy I craved in last year’s draft (Courtney Lee) be an important part of the Orlando Magic’s team that crushed our dreams and broke our hearts last year, it would have seemed that a guy like Sam Young would be a perfect addition from the Cavaliers. Experienced, older, NBA-ready, and the size to defend on the wing, things were looking up for the Cavaliers.
When the Timberwolves came on the clock yet again at the 28th pick, they took Wayne Ellington, and with only the Knicks left to pick before the Cavaliers, it meant they were going to have either Sam Young or DeJuan Blair available. When the Knicks took Toney Douglas, it seemed too good to be true, but the Cavaliers had their pick of the litter of guys who could possibly be a nice addition this season. Sam Young and DeJuan Blair were the big names from the big program, but there were also guys like DaJuan Summers, Derrick Brown, and Pat Mills available. Heck, even a guy the Cavaliers were rumored to like in the past, Chase Budinger, was available. Danny Ferry’s options were seemingly limitless. Perhaps unfortunately (depending on your point of view), that was a little too true, and Ferry did indeed reach into his limitless bag of options and pulled out a name nobody expected to see.
The name was Christian Eyenga, a 6’5” 210 lb forward from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Eyenga, who happened to be in attendance at the draft, sheepishly stood up to head to the podium, seemingly in complete shock that he was just drafted in the 1st round of the NBA Draft. The ESPN crew was eerily silent, saying absolutely nothing as they tore through their notes looking for any info on the guy. The Draft Board at Madison Square Garden stood empty beside the Cleveland Cavaliers’ name and logo, as they didn’t even bother making a nameplate for Eyenga. Finally, ESPN was able to get their foreign prospects expert Fran Fraschilla on the air, just in time for him to tell us that Eyenga was young, raw, athletic, and was seen as no more than a mid to very late 2nd round pick in this year’s draft.
The air was sucked out of the lungs of Cavaliers’ fans all over. I remember last year people freaking out over the pick of JJ Hickson, and I was quick to point out to them that they should be patient with Hickson and that he has serious potential to be a VERY good NBA player some day. I want to do the same with Eyenga, but I cannot. For several reasons.
First of all, I know nothing about Eyenga’s game. Hardly anyone does. If you go to the great NBA draft site, DraftExpress.com, you will find no photo on file for Eyenga, and no profile, no list of positives and negatives. The only thing you will see are a few stats from the 4 games he played in the Euroleague for Joventut Badalona in Spain, and a brief little write-up from November 14, 2008 that concludes,
Eyenga doesn’t particularly stand out for his skills or basketball IQ. Still, he can knock down three-pointers, even if his high-released jumper is pretty inconsistent (he struggles finding balance in the air to ignite a fluid release). He also shows a very nice first step to beat his opponents off the dribble -although he lacks the ball-handling skills to change directions reliably- and he shows decent criteria passing the ball. At least, he seems aware of what he can do on the court. Defensively, he’s pretty intimidating, and regularly collects spectacular blocks. Still, he sometimes relies too much on his athleticism while defending, not properly doing his job on the ground.
Not likely to develop into a big-time prospect, Eyenga’s athleticism makes him moderately intriguing as a defensive-oriented small forward (who plays bigger than his size) with –hopefully- a decent outside stroke.
The bottom line is, there’s always room for taking risks and drafting on potential and looking to build for the future. The issue here, though, is that Danny Ferry seemed to be sending conflicting messages. After telling the media earlier that afternoon that the Cavaliers aren’t going to patient and that they want to win now, he went out later that evening and picked for the future.
Nobody here is saying Sam Young was a sure fire prospect. He fell all the way to pick #36 in the draft, so obviously plenty of teams had plenty of questions and concerns about how well Young’s game will really translate to the NBA. The issue here is that the Cavaliers simply made a pick that wasn’t a pick. Eyenga isn’t coming to the NBA any time soon. He’s 20 years old right now, and is likely to stay in Europe for at least a year or maybe even 2, and then he could probably even expect some time in the Development League before he ever sees a roster spot on the Cavaliers.
In the 2nd round, the Cavaliers did a little better. With pick #46, they took Danny Green from the National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels. Green is precisely the kind of player the Cavaliers need. He’s long, versatile, is a relentless defender, and can shoot from anywhere on the court. There are questions about his explosiveness and his ability to create his own shot, which are legit concerns and why a player with his skill level fell so far in the draft, but in a good situation like the one he’s walking into in Cleveland, I think he has a chance to help. Whereas JJ Hickson’s rawness and lack of defensive awareness made it tough for him to find consistent minutes, Green has a chance to play a similar role to Darnell Jackson. Like DJ, Green is a smart player who can defend well, and is coming off a National Championship run in college.
Finally, the last move of the night for Ferry was to trade for the rights to Emir Preldzic, who the Phoenix Suns took with the 57th pick in the draft. Preldzic is definitely more NBA-ready than Christian Eyenga is right now, but Preldzic’s upside sounds pretty limited. He’s a 6’9” 220 lb wing player/point forward who continues the Cavaliers’ trend last night of going for versatile combo forwards. Preldzic, who plays in Turkey for Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul of the Euroleague, is a guy with tremendous ball handling skills and with a nose for driving to the hoop and finishing in the lane. His problem is that he can’t shoot. In 16 Euroleague games last year, he shot just 24.5% from three and 35.8% from the field overall, averaging 7.3 points in 22.6 minutes per game. It seems kind of unlikely to me that Preldzic will be coming to the US yet anyway, and he seems like a prime candidate to stay in Turkey for another year of seasoning.
It’s entirely possible that Danny Ferry will have the last laugh. If 4 years from now Eyenga is on the Cavaliers roster and an important part of the Cavs’ rotation on a team that is competing for Championships year in and year out, then this pick will indeed be worth it. But if, as so many foreign picks seem to end up, Christian Eyenga is a flop and never sees an NBA court, this will go down in history as yet another wasted draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise and a waste of an opportunity to find someone who could contribute in any way to LeBron’s last year under contract with the Cavaliers. History will be the only true judge of this year’s draft.