NBA Draft Outlook: Cleveland Cavaliers
Now that the NBA Draft Lottery is in the books, and the Cavs know that they will not be trotting out generational talent Zion Williamson in the fall of 2019, the time is right to take stock of who can and will be in the Wine and Gold next season.
Key Returners: Kevin Love, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr., Ante Zizic
This fivesome -- which does not comprise a functional starting five -- represents the current long-term future of the club. Love will likely be on the downside of his career by the time the Cavs return to relevance, and though Sexton showed some real promise in the second half of the season, none of the others has distinguished himself enough in his play to prevent the team from drafting the best player available.
Expiring Contracts: Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova
That’s not to say that none of these players have value beyond their contracts -- Thompson is a long-time Cav and team leader, Clarkson on a better team would get 6th Man of the Year buzz -- but energy bigs and instant-offense off the bench take good teams to great; they don’t make bad teams good. Expect GM Koby Altman to use many of these players as trade pieces, obtaining future draft capital along with longer-term contracts. It’s not impossible that one or more of these players might have a role on future Cleveland teams, but none will factor into draft decisions.
Notable Free Agents: Marquese Chriss, Nik Stauskas, Cameron Payne
The Cavs took fliers on this motley assemblage of failed lottery picks as they played out the string in 2019, happy to improve their draft position (ultimately to no avail) and see if any could contribute to future iterations of the Cavs. It’s hard to say if any did, but giving failed lottery picks another chance is a low-cost, high-potential move.
Team Needs: Everything.
Draft Picks: #5, #26 (via Houston)
Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech (#5)
The do-everything Culver would be a great backcourt fit alongside Sexton. A taller, longer player, Culver is a strong defender with an emerging playmaking skill-set, and though his shooting tailed off the further he got into the NCAA tournament, the Red Raiders don’t play for the title without Culver leading the way. He just turned 20, so he has room to improve even after playing two years at the college level. His athleticism doesn’t appear to be elite, but the depth and breadth of his abilities point towards a player with an exceedingly high floor who could still have a high ceiling as well.
De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia (#5)
Fresh off his starring turn leading his Virginia Cavaliers to the NCAA title, Hunter could stay a Cavalier if he’s drafted by Cleveland. The quintessential 3-and-D wing, Hunter would add to a burgeoning culture of effort and professionalism that the Cavs value, as evidenced by their selection of noted gym-rat Sexton last year. Having their two youngest players as their two hardest workers would certainly set a good tone moving forward, and Hunter’s strengths on the perimeter on both ends will not go out of style in the new NBA. Another player with a high floor, and a questionable ceiling, there’s little chance of Hunter busting, even if there doesn’t seem as high a likelihood of him finding future stardom.
Cam Reddish, F, Duke (#5)
On the other end of the ceiling/floor spectrum we find Reddish, who on his best nights can lead the team to a throttling of Kentucky, or tough road wins at Florida State, Louisville and Virginia, and on his worst can inexplicably not play in the Sweet 16 games against Virginia Tech. He looks like he was built in a basketball lab, but he doesn’t always play like it. If new coach John Beilein can work his player development magic on Reddish, this would be the quintessential swing for the fences. Of course, if Reddish looks as good in the draft process as he’s capable of looking, he might not even be around when the Cavs are on the clock.
KZ Okpala, F, Stanford (#26)
With his physical gifts, Okpala might catapult himself well out of the range of the Cavs’ second pick, but as a latecomer to basketball, Okpala has also yet to fully harness his skills, so he is definitely an upside play, but that’s a good play to make at 26th overall. Okpala clearly has the work ethic: he improved every aspect of his game between his freshman and sophomore years, and his best basketball is in front of him. Beilein would love a crack at a player like Okpala.
Jontay Porter, C, Missouri (#26)
It might be surprising to see a player who missed the entirety of his sophomore season (and most of his freshman campaign too) get the call late in the first round, but Porter has more upside than a lot of the players in this vicinity. Before he pulled out of last year’s draft, he would have been the youngest player selected, and he’s still shy of 20, despite two years in college. Porter has shades of Nikola Jokic in him, from his court vision right down to his physique, which certainly hasn’t helped back-to-back ACL tears. This could be an all-or-nothing pick if the Cavs go with Porter, where fans will either look back and shrug, thankful that Dan Gilbert’s deep pockets could buy a 1st while taking on the Brandon Knight contract, or cackle with glee, after the Cavs stole a modern 5 at the end of the first round.