When the Cleveland Cavaliers sit down on draft night and decide what to do with their 4 picks, a lot of factors will come into play. Thousands of man hours of scouting, research, and statistical breakdowns. Who is the best player available? What are the positions of need for this team? Based on positional depth in the draft pool, how should the team’s positional needs be prioritized?
I think most fans and observers agree the Cavaliers’ biggest need is scoring. More specifically, wing scoring. Beyond just scoring, though, the Cavaliers need wing players who can run in the open floor, show creativity on offense, work hard off the ball, play defense, rebound a little, and have an ability to finish at the rim. The team needs players who can not just fit in with Kyrie Irving on the court, but who can blossom into a solid core with Kyrie and eventually grow into a Championship contending team.
There are several players who obviously fit many or most of those criteria. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal are obvious fits for what the Cavaliers are trying to do. Others, such as Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb, Dion Waiters, and Austin Rivers all carry perhaps more obvious flaws, but also have certain characteristics that allow them to fit the mold of what the Cavaliers are looking to do.
Of course, there is one obvious monkey wrench in this whole “perfect” scenario of drafting an explosive wing player who grows into the ideal tandem player with Kyrie. That monkey wrench’s name is Andre Drummond.
Drummond, the quintessential project pick, is the center out of UConn who supposedly has potential and upside for miles. Drummond’s biggest problem is that he, well, quite frankly, hasn’t actually shown any of that potential or upside in any kind of consistent basis. For the most part, he has primarily been an underwhelming basketball player who just so happens to be blessed with height and an incredibly athletic frame.
With players like MKG, Beal, Barnes, and Lamb, what you see is what you get, for the most part. With Drummond, you have to use some foresight and a little imagination if you want to validate or justify using the #4 overall pick on him.
Yet, if there’s one thing we know about the NBA, it’s that nothing sings a siren’s song into the ears of NBA GMs quite like height. Centers with potential and upside have caused countless GMs their jobs and set franchises back decades. Size, height, and potential are the kind of things that cause GMs to draft Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Perhaps an unfair criticism of Portland due to Oden’s injury, but the fact remains that even had Oden stayed healthy, it’s hard to imagine him having a greater impact on the game than Kevin Durant.
Perhaps the reason for this is something that has been of substantial debate over the years, the question of whether the relevancy of the center position in the NBA is declining. There was a time when 6’6” was about as big you would expect a ball handler to be. In today’s NBA, guys are 6’11” and handling the ball like a PG. The game is changing and size is becoming relatively less important, at least in terms of the designated center position.
Last year the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title and their center, Tyson Chandler, was a vital part of that process. However, this season the Heat and Thunder are both squaring off without centers being an important part of what they do. Kendrick Perkins is a decent enough center, but his impact is rarely felt on the Thunder. The Heat’s woes at center are well documented. Taking it a step further, the Conference Finals featured four teams without dominant centers. Neither the Celtics nor the Spurs relied on a center for what they do.
There’s no question the NBA’s legacy is built on the backs on centers. Legendary names like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Walton, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon defined not just their position, but the sport as a whole. Yet in today’s NBA, while you still have your names like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, the teams using centers to fuel their Championship run are seemingly becoming less and less important.
There’s no question the Cavaliers need more centers. The often injured Anderson Varejao is tough to rely on to stay healthy, and beyond him the Cavaliers know Semih Erden can’t get the job done and Tristan Thompson is severely out of position there. Teams still need centers who can rebound, defend, block shots, and create commotion in the paint. What teams don’t need is to use a #4 overall pick on a project where even the upside gives you a positional advantage at a position where said advantage doesn’t always mean certain victory like it once did.
It’s tantalizing to envision a hyper-athletic center starting a fast break with a blocked shot and then flying down the court to finish the break with a dunk off a feed from Kyrie Irving. Or a 2-man game in the pick and roll with Irving where Kyrie can either throw up a lob for Drummond or, when the defenders sag to protect for said lob, can step back and drill open shots all day. But is that really the Byron Scott system and is that really what Andre Drummond can offer?
As time goes on and more mock drafts come out, the more rare it becomes to see people predicting the Cavaliers to take Drummond 4th. But armed with all those draft picks, there’s a sense the Cavaliers could look to move around the draft board. The Cavaliers are in full rebuilding mode and they need to decide how best to get the franchise back to where it was. The Cavaliers don’t need high risk picks with a high chance of failure. They need impact players who the teams feels 100% confident can come in and make their presence felt immediately.
If the Cavaliers want to draft a center in the 2nd round, or use some form of trade to take a center later in the first round, that’s ok. But in this year’s draft, the focus should be on wings who fit the system the Cavaliers are trying to make. Andre Drummond might someday be a fine NBA center. If the Cavaliers succeed in landing running mates for Kyrie, though, there will be no buyer’s remorse in passing on him. Especially if the current trend of winning despite not having an elite center holds true 1 .
- it’s worth noting that while teams don’t seem to be winning with centers anymore, the PF position is more important than ever…this is something the Cavaliers want to keep in mind when evaluating Tristan Thompson [back]