As we inch closer to the 2013 NBA draft, it's only becoming clearer just how up in the air the entire process is.
With less than a week to go, normally there would be a relative consensus regarding which player sits atop most draft boards. We also usually have a relatively good idea of how the lottery will shake out, as it usually has a margin of error of about one or two picks. The NBA draft, for all of its shuffling of picks and players, is a relatively predictable process.
This year, however, there's nothing but chaos. While we have a relatively good idea about who the best prospects are, it seems that each potential lottery pick comes with a laundry list of possibilities of where they might end up.
There's a simple reason for that: The Cleveland Cavaliers have made no indication of where they're heading with the top overall pick. At this point last year, the New Orleans Pelicans (then called the Hornets) had long made their choice of Anthony Davis—we just needed David Stern to simply announce the selection.
The only thing that we can be sure about regarding Cleveland's pick this year is that we can scuttlebutt the trade rumors. No secret has been made about the Cavaliers' willingness to ship off the selection for the right offer, but execution of said transaction is far more difficult.
The last time a top pick was traded before playing a game with his team occurred in 1994, when Chris Webber was selected by the Orlando Magic and was then immediately traded to the Golden State Warriors. Orlando got Penny Hardaway and three first-round picks in the trade.
That's not happening this time around, though, and no top selections have been traded since 1994, mainly because of the exorbitant asking price. Sure, the Cavaliers would trade the pick for Kevin Love, but what good reason would the Minnesota Timberwolves have for doing that?
Simply put, Cleveland is going to be drafting here next Thursday—but who will they be taking? Let's take a look at the three likeliest options for the selection and give a case for why each one should be the No. 1 overall pick.
Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
Long viewed as something of a near-lock to be the top pick in this year's draft, the past few weeks have seen Noel's grip on the pole position start to slip. The Kentucky standout, still recovering from a torn ACL, has more medical red flags than a bullfighting arena. Teams were obviously concerned about Noel's ACL when he went down with the injury in February, but reports of a high school growth-plate injury playing a factor in that tear were arguably more concerning.
Terry Pluto of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Cleveland is "very concerned" about Noel's long-term health. Couple that with ESPN's Ryen Russillo telling Grantland's Bill Simmons in a podcast interview that Noel has “epic bad dudes” around him, and it's easy to see why the Cavs may balk at taking him with the top pick.
The case against Noel is simple. He's draped in question marks—both as a prospect and as a person—and that's all without even mentioning his still underdeveloped offensive game.
The case in Noel's favor is equally simple to spell out, as he has the greatest potential of any prospect in this class. There's a reason why scouts were still touting him as this draft's top pick even after he went down with the ACL tear.
Despite the marked flaws in his offensive repertoire, Noel is an uber-athletic rim protector who averaged 4.4 blocks per game and was starting to find himself offensively before getting injured. He's a little slight right now at 206 pounds, but remember that Larry Sanders—arguably the league's best interior defender—wasn't much bigger when he came out of college. Players can develop into their bodies, folks.
There's no telling when he'll be available next season, and Cleveland is in a position where it can wait for him to become fully healthy. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson will make an interesting frontcourt duo, regardless of what happens with this pick, and the former's amenable contract doesn't put a major impetus on moving him.
Dan Gilbert and Co. might want to make the playoffs next season—but I also want to get married to Kate Upton. Cleveland imploded during the LeBron James era by trying to take a shortcut on what should have been a long-term plan, and the team cannot make the same mistake again. Noel, should he develop properly, would be the perfect fit in that long game of team building.
Alex Len (C, Maryland)
Right now, Len is probably the clubhouse leader at the top spot. Despite being unable to work out for teams during the draft process due to ankle surgery, scouts have slowly but surely fallen in love with the former Maryland star.
Once viewed as a borderline top-10 selection when announcing his decision to leave Maryland, Len has become almost a stone-cold lock for the top-five. In fact, Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune has reported that he's now the "likely" top choice for Cleveland next week:
So why Len over Noel, you ask? Both are injured, right? There's no clear answer on why the Cavs would feel more comfortable with Len's ankle than Noel's knee; both are historically worrisome for big men. But, based on everything that's come out over the past weeks, that seems to be the case.
More importantly, the Cavs are seemingly more comfortable with the more polished Len as a basketball fit alongside Kyrie Irving. While Len's ceiling isn't quite as high as Noel's (it's close), his basement isn't anywhere near as low, either.
A gymnast growing up, Len has the exact type of grace and footwork one would expect for someone with that background. He's an unbelievably smooth player around the basket, able to flip hook shots and turnaround jumpers over defenders with ease. There also aren't any questions about his ability to protect the rim or grab boards, either, though it's not quite at Noel's level.
Len certainly does not come without his questions, and he would disappear for long stretches at Maryland, sometimes in the team's biggest games. While it's true that Len destroyed Noel when Kentucky and Maryland faced off, Mason Plumlee also rendered him fangless. There are some who criticize his passivity and note that he may never live up to his potential.
That being said, very few think that he will be a bust. At the very worst, he'll be a disappointment, which would still probably make him a replacement-level NBA starter. When juxtaposed with Noel's flameout possibility, taking Len as a "safer" option is understandably attractive.
Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)
If I were running the Cavaliers organization, there wouldn't be an oscillation between these two centers, both of whom have plenty of question marks. Porter would be my selection, and there wouldn't be a second question asked.
The former Georgetown star is everything this Cavaliers team needs in a young player. He's an unselfish talent who can fill plenty of roles within an offense—anywhere from the point-forward spot in the open court to a glue guy who works off the ball and knocks down open shots.
With Irving and Dion Waiters both needing the ball to be at their most effective, don't discount that factor. Moving without the ball has become almost as important as actually moving with the ball, as NBA offenses have evolved into a never-ending series of cuts, pseudo cuts and false actions designed to confuse defenses. The San Antonio Spurs' ability to disguise the direction of their picks was one of the most effective and under-covered facets of their offense, and the Miami Heat had so many variations of cuts designed to get their shooters open that it's impossible to list.
Great teams have players who can fill multiple roles and play on both ends of the floor, and that's Porter down the very letter.
Take his position for instance. In every traditional sense, Porter will wind up being a 3 at the next level. But he's played the 4 for much of his collegiate career, has experience guarding the position and is still more comfortable in that role than he is within the traditional confines of being a small forward. In the past, that would get Porter the label of a tweener, especially considering his lack of bulk.
It's readily acknowledged that Porter will mostly play the 3 in the pros, and he'll be just fine in that role. He's an ever-improving three-point shooter and has the lateral quickness to take on other small forwards at the NBA level. Once Porter fully develops into his body, though, he'll likely be able to fit in at either forward spot and guard them without seeing any problems.
With the wing spot being Cleveland's biggest problem, Porter heading to the Cavs seemed preordained when they were projected to pick third. Why does that fit suddenly become untenable when the team moves up a whopping two spots?
Don't worry, I'll wait.
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