Here the Cavaliers are again, back in the quite friendly confines of the NBA Lottery. After proclaiming last May that they wouldn’t be back again in 2014, the #seasonofhuh then occurred. That’s what brings the Cavs to the No. 9 spot in the lottery this time around.
With the order-deciding lottery now three weeks away exactly, this post will serve as WFNY’s early primer to the draft. Who are some of the top prospects? Who are some of the top fits?
Much like last spring, I’ve recruited along @ClevTA, friend of the site, to join us in the analysis. TA watches way more college basketball than probably anyone in Cleveland Sports Twitter. He’s a must-follow. Many thanks to him for his scouting reports again this year.
For months and months now, you’ve probably heard about the strength of this 2014 draft class. You’ve likely heard about Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins from Kansas and Duke’s Jabari Parker. Those are the top three players, no doubt. But this year, the Cavs only have 6.1% odds of moving up to nab a top three pick. If not, they’re settled somewhere in the mid-to-late lottery region.
That means we won’t waste our time today analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of those elite guys. For proper context, here is a listing of the top 25 prospects in this year’s draft, per the big boards at DraftExpress and ESPN. Only the players highlighted in yellow will be featured today.
Within this top 25, there are a few themes that I wanted to explore in my introduction before TA’s scouting reports. I’ll also explain a bit more about why we’re featuring just these players today.
The rankings feature an early top eight. Wiggins, Embiid, Parker. Then, Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon. That’s your top eight — by quite a margin. Last year, I spent many, many hours for the NFL Draft and NBA Draft analyzing as many mock drafts and big boards as I could find. My goal was to find a bit more accuracy through aggregation. The task turned out to be fruitless, with two of the more unpredictable drafts in recent memory. Were those drafts rare outliers or a trend? I’m not certain without mounds of more data. But there does seem to be quite a sizeable gap here after the top eight this spring. Does that mean the Cavs are out of luck by holding the No. 9 lottery spot? Not necessarily. Anything could happen. And not everyone is a fit alongside this already oddly constructed core.
This year’s class is very, very young. Last year, Nerlens Noel was by far the youngest prospect in the top tier with a birthday of April 14, 1994. In this year’s class, four players are proportionally younger than Noel: Exum, Vonleh, Gordon and James Young. And almost the entire lottery will be under 21 through most of the 2014-15 NBA season. That makes a big difference. Age matters quite a bit in long-term projectablity, as ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton wrote last year. In the short-term however, it’s possible that the Cavs might not want to add yet another project to their roster who might not contribute to a playoff run immediately. So perhaps this actually is a slight misfit for this team and/or a reason to consider trading out of the lottery.
Let’s start off with the shooters. As I wrote in my season-in-review statistical observations article, the Cavaliers were outscored by 6.63 points per game from the three-point line this season. That was third-worst in the league. That’s a horrendous sight to see with the proliferation of outside shooting in today’s NBA. The Cavs desperately need more shooting talent. C.J. Miles is a free agent and likely to leave. Spencer Hawes is a free agent and could return. Dion Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova both shot respectably from outside at 36.8% each, but both are undersized guards. Sergey Karasev could help with a potentially expanded role. But in order to actually compete for the playoffs, the Cavs will desperately need more size and legitimate outside shooting ability on the wing. The draft is one avenue for growth if the team decides to stay in the lottery. That’s where TA will begin with his scouting reports.
The close calls and future posts. With today’s focus on shooters, and a need to be somewhat brief, we’re only publishing six of TA’s scouting reports. Some other possible wings that could be featured could be the intriguing K.J. McDaniels and Zach Lavine, although both aren’t as skilled in this regard just yet. TA also sent over scouting reports on promising big men Noah Vonleh and Jusuf Nurkic, but we’ll be getting to another post on other lottery options sometime in the near future. Perhaps there are others who also could be intriguing to feature for their potential fit on the Cavs team. Maybe a guy like Adreian Payne could make sense? Do we know enough about Dario Saric? What if any other of the top players fall? Certainly, there are plenty of possible options for the Cavs to mull over during the next two months — and over this entire offseason.
Now, on to the always informative scouting reports from our friend @ClevTA:
Per-game: 32.3 mins, 16.7 pts, 4.0 rebs, 2.7 asts, 1.8 stls, 1.7 turnovers
Shooting: 42.9% overall, 50.7% twos, 35.2% threes. 81.0% free throws
Efficiency: 22.8 PER, 26.8% usage rate, 7.3% rebound rate, 16.8% assist rate, 3.4% steal rate, 10.3% turnover rate
Strengths: Gary Harris is a solid player with a nice overall combination of shooting, smarts and defensive capabilities. He doesn’t necessarily excel in any one area but his top strength is probably his defense. In terms of projecting how a college player will translate defensively in the NBA, looking at steals and blocks can give good insight into that. Harris had the highest steal and block percentage among the top wing candidates for the Cavs. He can defend both guard positions and we all know if a player wants to play for Tom Izzo, he has to be a good defender. Harris is a solid three-point shooter and does a good job of hitting threes in transition as the Spartans loved to run and Harris was a trailer in that spot on many occasions. Harris also has a strong basketball IQ and especially doesn’t get lost defensively.
Weaknesses: Harris isn’t an overly athletic player for a shooting and didn’t get to the free-throw line enough at only 28% of his possessions. That 28% rate ranked last among the top shooters on this list. Harris also doesn’t get to the basket, and finish, well enough as he only hit 45.5% of his shots at the rim, according to DraftExpress. Even though Harris is a good defender, with only a 6-foot-7 wingspan, he may not be able to effectively defend some of the bigger 2-guards in the NBA.
NBA Comp: Danny Green
Cavs Fit: Harris is by far the best defender of the top shooters in the draft. He is a smart, well-rounded shooting guard who would fit nicely into Mike Brown’s offense and defense. I personally don’t think he is athletic enough nor has an outstanding skill that would make him a true impact player in the NBA. However, he should have a solid NBA career as a combo guard off the bench.
Per-game: 33.7 mins, 26.7 pts, 7.0 rebs, 1.6 asts, 0.2 stls, 1.8 turnovers
Shooting: 52.6% overall, 56.7% twos, 44.9% threes, 86.4% free throws
Efficiency: 33.1 PER, 36.2% usage rate, 12.6% rebound rate, 11.5% assist rate, 0.4% steal rate, 7.9% turnover rate
Strengths: McDermott was the consensus National Player of the Year and his numbers prove why that was the case. He posted a phenomenal 33.1 PER and was easily the most efficient offensive player in college basketball. He is a lights-out shooter, evidenced by his 52/45/86 shooting splits. McDermott is an excellent player off the ball and did a great job posting up against smaller forwards who were trying to guard him. He showed a really nice fadeaway jumper in the post and knew exactly whether to pop out off a screen or curl into the lane, based on how the defense was trying to play him. His basketball IQ is off the charts. Interestingly, for a guy who isn’t a great isolation offensive player, McDermott did not turn the ball over a lot (8% turnover rate).
Weaknesses: It’s pretty obvious where McDermott will struggle at the next level: mainly defense, a lack of athleticism and therefore a question of position. McDermott definitely tries hard defensively but he just doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay with small forwards and isn’t strong enough to defend power forwards. He really doesn’t have a defined position going into the NBA. The fact that he could only muster a grand total of seven steals and three blocks all season is astonishing. For as good of offensive numbers he posted this year, his defensive/athletic-based numbers were just as poor. The question will be if teams are willing to bet if McDermott will at least not embarrass himself on defense enough to draft him in the lottery.
NBA Comp: Wally Szczerbiak (without the athleticism)
Cavs Fit: McDermott is an interesting case for the Cavs. He provides exactly what they need on offense, mainly tremendous outside shooting and his ability to space the floor. But as mentioned above, he is a tweener in terms of his NBA position and probably doesn’t possess the athletic ability to get full-time minutes on the court. Guys like Chad Ford have used Kyle Korver as a comp for McDermott, but that’s just lazy on his part. Korver was actually a serviceable defender and more athletic. At Creighton, Korver averaged 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks per game, way more than McDermott. If Mike Brown continues as the Cavs coach will he sign off on a guy with so many defensive questions? I’m not so sure.
Nik Stauskas, SG, 6-6, 200
Per-game: 35.6 mins, 17.5 pts, 2.9 rebs, 3.3 asts, 0.6 stls, 1.9 turnovers
Shooting: 47.0% overall, 50.0% twos, 44.2% threes, 82.4% free throws
Efficiency: 22.9 PER, 24.4% usage rate, 5.3% rebound rate, 18.8% assist rate, 1.0% steal rate, 12.0% turnover rate
Strengths: Nik Stauskas was perhaps the most improved player in college basketball this season. He went from a spot-up shooter last year for the Wolverines to being the lead scoring option this year. He showed tremendous perimeter shooting ability and was able to create offense. What stood out for me this year was just how efficient Stauskas was off the pick-and-roll, which is a big asset for NBA teams. Although Stauskas’ usage is the lowest compared to the other wing players on this list, he was very efficient when he had the ball in his hands. His 47/44/82 shooting splits are outstanding and he showed excellent ability to get to the hoop. His 39% free throw rate and 19% assist rate easily rank the highest in both categories among the wing players in this range. Time and time again, Stauskas burned opponents in the pick-and-roll game. He did so by hitting the jumper, driving to the hoop or dumping the ball off to one of Michigan’s big men (mainly, Jordan Morgan). Stauskas has an uncanny ability to almost always make the correct decision in two-man offense.
Weaknesses: The biggest knock on Stauskas is his lack of defensive capabilities. His 6-foot-6 height is solid for a shooting guard but he doesn’t have a great wingspan and has a slight frame. He isn’t blessed with tremendous quickness so being able to be in the correct position on defense in the NBA will be a key to how quickly he can get big rotation minutes. His handles are just ok and he did turn the ball over a decent amount, a 12% turnover rate, so he will need to clean that up a little bit.
NBA Comp: Klay Thompson
Cavs Fit: All season I kept looking for major holes in Stauskas’ game, not thinking he had a chance to be a very good NBA player. He kept proving me wrong time and time again and now I am sold he can contribute and play for a team, potentially the Cavs. I think he has a chance to step in and do for Kyrie Irving what Klay Thompson did for Steph Curry in Golden State. At a minimum, he will be able to light it up from the outside immediately and, with his strength in the pick-and-roll game, he could be a nice second or third scoring option on the wing for the Cavs.
James Young, SG/SF, 6-7, 205
Per-game: 32.4 mins, 14.3 pts, 4.3 rebs, 1.7 asts, 0.8 steals, 1.9 turnovers
Shooting: 40.7% overall, 47.0% twos, 34.9% threes, 70.6% free throws
Efficiency: 16.8 PER, 23.5% usage rate, 7.5% rebound rate, 10.8% assist rate, 1.4% steal rate, 12.3% turnover rate
Strengths: Young has nice size for a wing with long arms and an impressive 6-foot-11 wingspan. He is a streaky outside shooter who can get on a roll when he is hot, as evidenced by his 50% three-point shooting during the SEC tournament. As I recall, many of those outside shots were made with tight defense in his face. For a young guy, he can also get to the basket when his shot is not going, getting to the free throw line in 33% of his possessions. He posted a solid 47% two-point shooting percentage and figures to continue to get better at finishing at the rim.
Weaknesses: He is not the best athlete and, for a wing player, he will need to rely on his wingspan to help him on defense. Of the group of shooters listed, he commits the most turnovers per possession (12.3%) and has assisted on the least amount of baskets (10.8%). His biggest weakness is his tendency to take poor shots. As mentioned above, he is very streaky so when he is either very hot or very cold he will continue to jack up shots at a heavy volume. This has led to a rather pedestrian 16.8 PER, the lowest among the top group of shooters in this draft.
NBA Comp: Trevor Ariza
Cavs Fit: Young probably ranks at the bottom of the Cavs list of prospects to consider late in the lottery but he is also the youngest. His age (18) and upside keeps him in the discussion for when the Cavs are on the clock. He is not only a good outside shooter but his slashing ability makes him an interesting prospect down the road.
P.J. Hairston, SG, 6-5, 225
Per-game: 32.3 mins, 21.8 pts, 3.5 rebs, 0.8 asts, 1.5 stls, 1.8 turnovers
Shooting: 45.3% overall, 55.0% twos, 35.8% threes, 87.0% free throws
Efficiency: 19.2 PER, 25.5% usage rate, 5.7% rebound rate, 4.1% assist rate, 2.2% steal rate, 8.9% turnover rate
Strengths: P.J. Hairston played in the D-League with the Texas Legends after being dismissed by North Carolina for NCAA violations. He put up big scoring numbers with the Legends, although the D-League isn’t ripe with much defense. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Hairston already has an NBA body and that lends to an aggressive style of play that could help him succeed fairly quickly. Hairston’s outside shooting is probably his biggest strength, as he shot 36% from the NBA three-point line last season. Hairston has a pure stroke from the outside and so there shouldn’t be any issue with his ability to step in and shoot right away. He also did a nice job getting to the foul line, at a 33% rate, and showed off his shooting stroke by making 87% from the line. Defensively, Hairston is not the liability that one might expect from a shooter. He has a nice 6-foot-9 wingspan that will help him defend the perimeter and he should be able to get his hands in the passing lane. His solid 1.5 steals per game this past season proved as much.
Weaknesses: There are some concerns among scouts that Hairston loafed a little bit both at UNC and in the D-League. Although he can put up some big scoring numbers, it looked like he was too focused on scoring as his defense, passing and rebounding suffered. In that regard, he had just a 4.1% assist rate for a meager 21 total assists all season! It remains to be seen if Hairston is a selfish scorer or it was a by-product of the high scoring D-League and his NBA aspirations. Another concern is that Hairston played off the ball a lot and hit jumpers instead of scoring on NBA type pick-and-roll or isolation offense.
NBA Comp: J.R. Smith
Cavs Fit: Hairston’s tremendous shooting abilities would be a great asset to this Cavs team. Having at least proven his ability to score in the D-League, Hairston has an advantage over the collegian entrants as he should be able to contribute to an NBA team right away. This is huge for a Cavs team in need of immediate scoring from the wing. The off-the-court issues are something the Cavs and every other team will have to consider when looking at Hairston as well.
Rodney Hood, SF, 6-8, 190
Per-game: 32.9 mins, 16.1 pts, 3.9 rebs, 2.1 asts, 0.7 stls, 1.5 turnovers
Shooting: 46.4% overall, 49.4% twos, 42.0% threes, 80.7% free throws
Efficiency: 20.3 PER, 23.8% usage rate, 7.2% rebound rate, 13.2% assist rate, 1.3% steal rate, 10.2% turnover rate
Strengths: Rodney Hood is a fluid shooter with a pretty outside shot, although don’t all lefties have pretty shots? He made 36% of his three-pointers in his first season at Mississippi State and 42% this past season at Duke. Hood is a very good catch-and-shoot player as well as a shooter off the dribble. He hit 43% of his pull-up jumpers on the season, No. 1 among the top prospects in this draft. In his first season at Mississippi State, he was great in catch-and-shoot situations behind the three-point line, shooting 47%, according to Synergy Sports. His 10.2% turnover rate is fantastic and ranks in the top 25 nationally for all forwards. The turnover rate may be a little misleading as Hood doesn’t go to the line a ton, but nonetheless he is a fairly solid ball handler for his size.
Weaknesses: Hood is not a very good defender. He averaged less than a steal per game and only 3.1 defensive rebounds. Although his 6-foot-8 frame is good size for a small forward, his wingspan is only 6-foot-8 as well. His lack of wingspan probably contributed to why he didn’t generate many steals or blocks. Watching Duke this season, it’s tough to isolate just how poorly Hood played defensively because the entire Duke team was terrible defensively. Hood’s biggest weakness on offense is his lack of aggressiveness going to the basket. He only went to the line 3.9 times per game and really just lived behind the three-point line all season. He will need to add more to his frame in order to compete, on both ends of the floor, against the bigger small forwards in the NBA.
NBA Comp: Mike Miller
Cavs Fit: The Cavs have had a huge hole at the small forward position ever since LeBron left and have tried, unsuccessfully, to fill it with the likes of Alonzo Gee, Earl Clark and Luol Deng. None of those guys could shoot; Hood can. His catch-and-shoot numbers suggest he would be a nice option on the wing and corners with ball dominant guards like Kyrie and Dion penetrating.
In TA’s report, he ranked the shooters in terms of their fit with the Cavaliers. Here was his list, in order: Stauskas, Hairston, Hood, Harris, McDermott and Young. TA again noted Stauskas’ ability to knock down shots at an efficient rate as well as his pick-and-roll prowess.
The chart below shows how high Stauskas’ three-point shooting ranks among this tier. Only McDermott stands out more with his exceptional PER, but he’s a bit of a misfit entering the NBA.
The final chart shows some of the data used above and more. It’s fascinating to note that 97.6% of Hood’s threes were assisted, while that was only the case for 71.7% for Stauskas and 70.4% for Young. That could mean they’d do even better in terms of shooting efficiency off the ball on the Cavs.
Personally, I do very much like Stauskas as well. Oddly enough, it would give the Cavs three straight lottery pick Canadians. But if the team does keep the pick and looks to continue adding in intriguing young assets, then yes, it does look like Stauskas could be the perfect fit.
Photos: Daniel Brenner/AnnArbor.com; Al Goldis/AP Photo; Frank Franklin II/AP Photo; Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports; Jamie Squire/Getty Images; Sergio Hentschel/Getty Images; Lance King/Getty Images.