The NBA Finals have come and gone, and though it feels like it’s been 6 months since the Cleveland Cavaliers played a basketball game, the offseason is really only just now beginning. The first step will be the NBA Draft and here we sit, just one week away from the first step toward determining the path the Cavaliers’ rebuilding process will take.
As with the NFL Draft, we are now entering the bizarre pre-week stage of the process of the draft where conflicting reports and misinformation are about to fill the air waves. We’ve already seen our fair share of rumors, leaks, and lies over the past weeks since the Draft Lottery made the Cavaliers the story of the draft, but now that the distraction of the NBA Playoffs are gone, expect the volume on those rumors to be turned up.
Indeed, information is all over the place today. Yahoo’s Marc Spears has an interview with head coach Byron Scott in which Coach Scott says the Cavaliers haven’t made up their mind yet on whether the first pick will be Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams. This, of course, conflicts with ESPN’s Chad Ford who has reported that the Cavaliers are actively trying to trade both Ramon Sessions and Baron Davis, the implication being, of course, that Kyrie Irving is definitively the pick.
It’s not just the #1 pick, either. Consider the debate with the #4 pick assuming the Cavaliers really do take Irving first. There have been plenty of whispers coming out of Cleveland that Jonas Valanciunas is their top center prospect, over Enes Kanter. In fact, according to DraftExpress.com’s Jonathan Givony, “most franchises picking in the top-10 feel that Valanciunas is the top player on Cleveland’s draft board at this pick.” Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick posted his latest mock draft and he reports the opposite, saying “I’ve been told the Cavs will likely take Kanter if Knight indeed goes to Utah (as opposed to Kanter), but sources say Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas is also in the mix.” NBA.com’s David Aldridge also seems to hint at the same thing, writing “The Wizards could also try and move up to this spot to take Kanter, but it’s not going to be easy to convince the Cavs to pass up on someone so talented and physical to pair with Irving.”
But what happens if the Cavaliers decide they are serious about getting both Irving and Williams? With virtually every report out there saying that if Cleveland takes Irving #1, the Timberwolves will take Williams at #2 and then decide whether to trade him or else perhaps Michael Beasley. So if the Cavs want both, they’re going to need to trade into the #2 spot. Givony says the price tag to do so in a one on one trade with Minnesota will be steep. He writes:
Cleveland could get involved here since team owner Dan Gilbert is a huge fan of Williams, but it’s unclear whether the Cavs would make Anderson Varejao available, a perquisite for any trade involving this pick.
Now, it’s tough to trade a guy like Anderson Varejao who is a fan favorite and a veteran still in his prime who does so many of the intangibles so well. But if the Cavaliers really do feel that Williams is a guy who can be a huge piece of the Cavaliers’ core and perfect running mate to pair with Irving, then maybe they would consider moving Andy.
So it’s quite evident that there is a lot of noise out there. If we can drown out the rumors for a few minutes and just focus on what the Cavaliers should do, perhaps we can find some resolution.
The general consensus amongst scouts, executives, writers, and yes, even YouTube scouting bloggers such as myself is that Kyrie Irving should be the pick at #1, end of story. Yet a common feeling persists amongst many Cavs fans that even though Irving may well be the best player in this draft, a better overall strategy to maximize value with the two picks would be to take Williams first and then take Brandon Knight 4th, thus giving the Cavaliers their athletic wing player and PG pairing.
It’s easy to see why fans love Williams so much. He’s an exciting player who demonstrates an incredible ability to play above the rim and who is also downright lethal from outside the 3 point line. Don’t believe me on that? Check out this video:
It’s hard not to salivate when watching that video and it’s sure to put doubt into the most fervent believers in Kyrie Irving. Yet, the strategy of taking Williams first is risky for multiple reasons.
First of all, there’s no reason to think the Cavaliers can get Knight at #4. If they take Williams first, Irving will definitely go 2nd to Minnesota, which leaves Utah with the same decision they already have in most mock drafts in which Irving goes first. For the Jazz, it makes no difference where Irving and Williams go, it only matters that they aren’t available. So if the Jazz do take Knight in this scenario, the Cavaliers are right back to deciding between Kanter and Valanciunas, although Kemba Walker now likely comes into the mix.
So going this route only makes sense if you’re sure that Derrick Williams is better than Kyrie Irving, or at least only marginally worse. I personally think Derrick Williams will be a very good NBA player and I’d love to have him on the Cavaliers, but I simply don’t see him as having the same chance to be a franchise cornerstone as Kyrie Irving has.
The first thing I like about Irving is his size. He doesn’t have a massive wingspan, but his measurables in shoes (I prefer this method since, you know, NBA players wear shoes) have him at 6’3.5” and weighing 191 lbs. He’s not as big as some recent PGs John Wall and Jrue Holliday, but he’s about the same size as Russell Westbrook and bigger than other elite PGs such as Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul.
That size will help Irving defensively, where he already looks like he has the capacity to be an above average (if not excellent) defender at the point. Last season the Cavaliers’ defense got torched at the point of attack (nothing new to the team, even during the LeBron era) and Irving could be fundamental in changing that culture of exposure at the PG position.
Offensively, Irving may not be the athlete that guys like John Wall or Derrick Rose are, but he’s far from being a lead foot. Furthermore, Irving is deceptive in the way he plays. He uses a change of pace dribble to hide his athleticism from defenders and striking as soon as they get lazy and give him an opening.
Over at Basketball Prospectus, Sebastian Pruiti, one of the most relentless game tape analysts out there, breaks down a comparison between Rose and Irving, noting the similar ways they can use the pick and roll and finish at the rim.
Here’s one of the videos Pruiti posted:
It’s encouraging to see the way Irving can use his body to contort around defenders. He shows incredible awareness when finishing and an ability to avoid the charge. If you watch the other videos posted at Basketball Prospectus, you can see further examples of how Irving can attack defenses with a high pick and roll. When you combine that with his ability to finish at the rim, you see how Coach Scott can design a half court offense around Irving’s skills.
I’m not sure you can say the same for Williams. I see Derrick Williams much more valuable as a finisher as opposed to a cornerstone. Again, that’s no knock on Williams, it’s just more of why I feel Irving is more valuable as #1 overall pick.
Irving is an exceptional ball handler and is also a phenomenal outside shooter. He also excels at getting to the FT line, particularly for a PG. This shows he has the same internal desire to be aggressive in attacking the lane as PGs like Rose and Wall possess.
Over at TrueHoop, Peter Newman and Dean Oliver co-authored a piece talking about Irving and whether or not he is a risky #1 pick. The one thing they don’t question is his ability:
And his numbers were quite good: His 61.5 effective field goal percentage was very good. His 46.2 3-point field goal percentage was very good. His PPR (pure point rating) of 1.4 is solid. And 33.3 percent of his points came from the free throw line, which is very good.
But it is more about uncertainty than ability. John Wall and Derrick Rose both dramatically improved their assist numbers and turned the ball over more when they first started as freshmen at Kentucky and Memphis, respectively. But by the end of his only college season, Irving’s assists decreased — he averaged 9.9 assists per 40 minutes in his first five games, but just 3.3 assists per 40 minutes in his last six games — and his turnovers increased.
Still, the metrics show that Irving may be in good company, as he compares most favorably to Chris Paul and Ty Lawson. Further on down the list are Jerryd Bayless and William Avery, both first-round picks who have not had great success relative to the other players. Others are Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and Mike Bibby, from which we can safely draw the conclusion that Irving will be a scoring point guard, like these other players.
Irving has about a 60 percent chance of being good and a legitimate chance of being really good. But because he played only 303 college minutes, there is also a relatively large chance (about 15 percent) that he fails.
If Irving had played 1,100 minutes (about 30 minutes per game) at the performance level he showed in 300 minutes for the entire season, his chance of failure would drop to about baseline — about 4 percent — and his chance of being a very good NBA player jumps to about 80 percent.
With Irving, the biggest questions arise from his injury last season, not what he can do on the court. Does one injury in his only college season make him injury prone? I don’t believe so. As long as the Cavaliers doctors are comfortable with what they saw in his toe when they examined him, then there’s no reason to get cute in messing around with taking Derrick Williams.
When you have the #1 overall pick, you shouldn’t worry about maximizing value at #4. You need to take the best player available and the player with the best chance to be a franchise cornerstone. That player is Kyrie Irving in this draft.
The perception that taking Williams first give the Cavaliers more options at #4 is flawed anyway. You could argue that since the Cavaliers already have Sessions and Davis they could ignore Irving and go with Williams and then get the center of their choosing and thus better fill out their roster. But that mentality presupposes that the Cavaliers are concerned about a playoff roster in 2011-12. If we can accept the fact that the Cavaliers are not Championship contenders, then the only concern with #1 should be best player available.
If the Cavaliers want to work a trade to get the top 2 picks and take Irving and Williams, I’m all for it. It would give them the consensus two best players in the draft and the Cavaliers could address center in either a later pick or else next season. Otherwise, with the general assumption being that Brandon Knight is going to Utah at #3 anyway, the Cavaliers need to take Kyrie Irving #1, and then they can take whichever player they like best at #4. In my opinion, this is how the Cavaliers maximize their return value in this draft.
What’s not to like about that?
Photo Credit: Steve Freeman – NBAE/GETTY IMAGES