Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is as coachable—and hardworking—as any other prospect in this draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers surprised many critics early in their 2011-12 campaign. One year removed from setting an NBA record with 26 consecutive losses, this year's squad had a whole new swagger about them.
The movement was led by big man Anderson Varejão—who was in the midst of having a career year—and sensational rookie point guard Kyrie Irving. The two connected on a countless number of perfectly executed pick-and-rolls and got the Cavs off to a 10-15 start. It seemed as though the two had been playing together for years rather than just several months, and the team was in the hunt for their first playoff berth in the post-LeBron James era.
But, of course, it wouldn't be Cleveland without some bad luck.
The injury bug hit the Cavs hard, bringing down Varejão for the rest of the season and causing veterans Daniel Gibson and Anthony Parker to sporadically miss action. The Cavs won just eight of their remaining 35 games after the All-Star break and finished tied for the third-worst record in the league.
Regardless, Irving proved himself as the franchise cornerstone that the Cavs hoped he could become when they selected him first overall in the 2011 draft. Fellow rookie Tristan Thompson and young swingman Alonzo Gee also impressed and established themselves as building blocks for the future.
And now, with the 2012 draft quickly approaching, the Cavs will have another opportunity to further advance their rebuilding project. The team has four picks total—the fourth, 24th (from the Lakers), 33rd, and 34th (from the Hornets)—and plenty of glaring holes in their roster that need to be filled.
Let's take a look at the four most immediate needs that general manager Chris Grant and crew should aim to address in this draft.
The Cavs need a player to take some of the pressure off of Irving.
It was at this stage in Kevin Durant's career back in 2008 when the Thunder found him his second-banana in Russell Westbrook. Now it's the Cavs' turn to do the same for Irving.
It's no secret that the NBA is an extremely competitive league—one that almost always requires a team to have multiple stars in order to win. Just look at the four teams remaining in the playoffs. Each one has several future Hall of Fame players leading the way for them.
Because Cleveland is an unattractive destination for free agents, the draft is their only chance to get a Robin for Irving's Batman. And with their first pick being in the top five, this is a golden opportunity.
But are they really going to leave one of the biggest decisions in their new era up to fate by taking the scraps that Charlotte and Washington leave behind? That seems pretty risky, especially considering they may be able, according to ESPN's Chad Ford (via Waitingfornextyear.com), to swap the fourth and 24th picks with Charlotte for the second to secure their guy.
And in my opinion, the player they should be targeting is Kidd-Gilchrist.
He is a winner in every sense of the word. Watch him on the court and you will quickly see the energy and passion that make scouts drool over him. That is exactly the type of presence the Cavs need in their locker room.
Oh, and it doesn't hurt that he has experience playing with Irving, as the two starred together at St. Patrick High School in New Jersey. Kidd-Gilchrist even referred to the Cavs' stud as his "best friend" in an interview with Slamonline.com.
Vanderbilt's Jeff Taylor is one of the top perimeter defenders in the draft.
Offense may win games but defense wins championships.
The Cavs had a young team that ranked 26th in the league last year in defensive efficiency. Never has a team ranked outside of the top 10 gone on to win a championship since the introduction of the statistic in 2003-04.
The time is now to start establishing that defensive mentality within the clubhouse, and it begins by drafting players who are committed to playing hard on that end of the floor.
The Cavs are in luck that Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal and Drummond are all capable of buying into this mindset. That is not the case, however, of players who will be taken into consideration for their next three picks.
Cleveland needs to avoid the likes of Iowa State's Royce White, St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson and Vanderbilt's John Jenkins with the No. 24 pick. While these three have intriguing offensive skill-sets, their lack of a presence defensively should be major red flags for Chris Grant.
Vanderbilt's small forward Jeff Taylor is one name to keep an eye on for this selection. He's got an NBA-ready body and is very quick on his feet which helped be named to three SEC All-Defensive teams. This, paired with his great outside shooting ability, makes him a major sleeper candidate.
Also keep an eye on St. John's freshman wing Moe Harkless if he slips. Despite his inconsistency, Harkless is one of the top athletes in the class, seems motivated (as outlined in this interview with DraftExpress.com), and has the potential to become a lockdown defender.
Jae Crowder from Marquette could be an option in the second round if the Cavs feel he is quick enough to play on the wing in the NBA. He has a non-stop motor, rebounds very well for his size, and makes it his personal mission to shut down his opponent every single time he steps onto the court.
Kentucky's Doron Lamb is a marvelous three-point shooter.
If Beal is the team's first selection then they have already found one potentially lethal three-point weapon. Anyone else, however, and they will need to keep searching.
Finding a player who can stroke it from the outside will be crucial to put next to Irving. When he drives, he needs a reliable option to feed off of his penetration and be able to knock down an open shot.
No, neither Anthony Parker nor Omri Casspi was that guy.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Taylor is more than just a defensive specialist. The kid can stroke it. He shot an impressive 42.3 percent from beyond the arc, a miraculous improvement from the 9.1 percent he averaged just two years earlier.
Perhaps the title of best shooter in the entire draft, though, belongs to a second-round prospect in Kentucky-product Doron Lamb. Lamb shot a dynamite 46.6 percent from three-point land last season and is an overall great scorer. He also defends well and is flying severely under the radar.
Keeping with the theme of players who can shoot the three and defend, Lamb's Kentucky teammate Darius Miller is another option, as are Memphis' Will Barton and Tennessee Tech's Kevin Murphy. Any of them would be welcomed additions for the Cavs in the early-30s.
Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie is a very intriguing big to watch out for.
While the Cavs could use an upgrade at every position minus point guard, perhaps none is more obvious than at center. If Varejão is considered a natural power forward, then that leaves the team's top centers as—drumroll, please—Semih Erden and Samardo Samuels!
An upgrade here is needed immediately to say the least.
If the Cavs take Drummond with their top pick then they can focus the rest of their draft on acquiring wings. But if not, the Cavs will likely keep three other centers on their radar.
The first is the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year Fab Melo out of Syracuse, projected to go in the 24 to 30 range. Fab's a great athlete and was a force in the middle of Syracuse's zone. With that said, he can't score outside of shots at the rim and is a very poor rebounder.
Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie is another player who could be available in this same range. He broke out onto the scene this year after averaging an impressive 16.4 points and 10.5 boards per game for the Bulldogs.
The uber-athletic big has a very versatile game, both offensively and defensively, as he can bang in the post or take his man off the dribble and is quick enough to guard players on the perimeter. He will need to bulk up play center at the next level, but he is a very intriguing option to say the least.
If the Cavs opt to take a wing with the Lakers' pick, then perhaps Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli could be the selection with one of their two second-round picks. He possess a great NBA body and was able to finally break out his senior year. Despite his massive 6'11" 255-pound frame, Ezeli still struggles as a rebounder and has thus earned a reputation as being somewhat of a soft player. Regardless, he's a good finisher at the rim and a solid defensive player who should be a good value pick at No. 33.