It wasn’t all that long ago that I wrote the first part of my Cavaliers Draft Preview, and here I am back again with a list of seven new prospects the team could be eying in the draft in two weeks. Cleveland won a franchise-high 66 games en route to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference this season, but were cast down in the playoffs at the hands of the Orlando Magic. This off-season and draft will be crucial to the long-term success of the franchise as we look to get stronger, younger and more equipped for playoff basketball. In common sense terms, that means more low-post players.
According to the nifty Web site www.teamrankings.com, the Cavaliers ranked 26th in the NBA in points in the paint this season with 35.5 per context. For comparisons sake, the Lakers were second at45.6 while the Magic were only 25th with 36.1 per game. This will have to improve next year, as Cleveland does not have the inside-outside game like Orlando does with four shooters on the court at all times, and as a fan I am first and foremost looking to the draft for this statistic to improve. Without any further ado, here are seven more prospects Danny Ferry and company should be looking at over the next two weeks:
Tyler Hansbrough, PF North Carolina – The most enigmatic player in the draft this season, Psycho T has been one of the most sensational scorers in the college game over the past two years. The 6-9, 230 pound four-year starter for the Tar Heels averaged 20.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in 30.3 minutes per game during his senior season. He won the Naismith Award in 2008 for the most outstanding collegiate basketball player, yet many doubt his potential at the next level. My feeling about Hansbrough is that he is one of the more proven low-post players in this year’s draft, and could step in as a solid contributor off the bench immediately, which is much more than you can say about JJ Hickson right now. He will be a solid grisly low-post guy for many years to come, even if he is not a full-time starter or a go-to player.
DeJuan Blair, PF Pittsburgh – This physical bruiser was the Co-Big East Player of the Year this season along with C Hasheem Thabeet out of Connecticut, and is labeled as one of the best rebounders in the business. BasketballProspectus.com had a fine article on Blair’s credentials not too long ago, and gave him the award as the best player in the country thanks to his insane rebounding numbers (12.3 boards in 27.3 minuters per game). Despite his success in the college game, many scouts question his endurance and stamina, along with his ability to stay out of foul trouble, a problem that plagued him and the Panthers in the NCAA Tournament. He is still only 20 years old, but at 6-7, 265, he is an absolute physical monster in the paint, and still has a lot of potential to develop offensively. He is currently projected as a late-lottery pick, but could be one of those players the Cavs target in a possible trade.
Damion James, PF Texas – A lower-key prospect than Hansbrough or Blair, this 21-year-old Longhorn is another tough defensive-minded forward with a lot of potential. He averaged 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a game for Texas this season, and is currently slotted as a solid second-round pick and could be available at #46 overall in the draft where the Cavs have their second pick this year. He is only testing the waters in 2009, but with his versatility offensively and ability to bolster his already tough 6-7, 225 pound frame, he could be a very interesting prospect for the long-term. Unfortunately, he seems more like a JJ Hickson than a Lamar Odom-type player right now, and would need some more seasoning to grow into a good contributor off the bench. If Danny Ferry is thinking more long-term with Cleveland this season, he might be a solid idea, but otherwise I think the Cavaliers would be better suited looking elsewhere.
Jonas Jerebko, SF Italy – It is pretty hard to ignore the potential of this Swedish-born, Italian player who stands at 6-9, 210 pounds but is only 22 years old. His efficiency, versatility and potential are making the writers at DraftExpress drool over his strengths, but who knows if he could be another international bust a la Nikoloz Tskitishvilli, Marco Belinelli or most recently, Danilo Gallinari. The good news is that he is currently firmly in the second round, and could easily be had at one of the Cavs current selections in the draft. He would be a versatile option off the bench, and although he probably resembles an Andres Nocioni more than a Hedo Turkoglu, he could be a solid potential-laden guy who could really be a stud defensively.
Chase Budinger, SF Arizona – One of the more intriguing first-round possibilities, Budinger was the 2006 Mizuno national volleyball Player of the Year… You read that correctly, volleyball player turned basketball pro. The Wildcat junior out of Carlsbad, California pulled his name out of the drawing at the last minute in 2008, and is back in 2009 with a little more promise following a solid season for Arizona (18.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 37.6 minutes per game). Scouts are marveling over his basketball experience, versatility and explosiveness, but would need to develop more as a tough, defensive-minded player off the bench quickly to adjust to the NBA style of play. He is a solid offensive talent who shot 39.9% from three-pointers, but his lack of a position could come into question. He stands at 6-7, 218, meaning he could be a nice versatile scorer off the bench that could easily replace a guy like Sasha Pavlovic in the short-term.
Omri Casspi, SF Israel – A name I have been hearing a lot recently towards the end of the first round is this 6-8, 220 pound forward for Maccabi Tel Aviv. He is about to turn 21 years old, and has big-time mismatch potential with his long, athletic frame. The statistics are lacking on his overall game beacuse of the international style of play, but his DraftExpress profile touts his acitivity level, toughness, intensity, work ethic, assertiveness and aggressive slashing mentality as some of his strengths. Just thinking of the possibilities for him at the NBA level, he is going to need to develop his ball-handling skills to really become a bright star. Fortunately for Cleveland, Molante or LeBron will always be controlling the ball, making this less of an issue and possibily boosting his stock towards the mid-range of that first round.
Toney Douglas, SG Florida State - I absolutely love Douglas, and although he is currently ranked as a second-round draft pick, I had to include on this list. He was an elite scorer this past season for the Seminoles, averaging 21.5 points in 36.5 minutes per game, and was one of the most efficient players in the game. In addition, he also won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, proof of his ability to play nose-to-nose with some of the stiffest college competition in the nation. Unfortunately for his draft status, he does not project as a point guard in the NBA as he was in college, and at 6-1, 196, is very undersized to play the role as a defensive-minded shooting guard in teh league. Nonetheless, if the Cavaliers decide not to trade their second-round draft pick (#46 overall) and want to pick somebody based upon his upside, Douglas should be the way to go. He can create his own shot, and could be one of the best perimter defenders in this year’s draft.