If you go to Cleveland, chances are you'll find rabbit feet littering the streets and four-leaved clovers growing everywhere else.
Weird as that may be for such a beleaguered sports city, there's no denying the insane amount of luck the Cleveland Cavaliers have experienced over the last few years. Ever since LeBron James left, really.
Conspiracy theorists, back off. You can retroactively create a narrative no matter who won.
There was a 1.7 percent chance that Cleveland ended up with the No. 1 pick. Lo and behold, the Cavaliers are now prepared to add a third top pick in the last four years, as one of the elite prospects will be joining Kyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett.
But who should it be?
Do note this is assuming they keep the pick. As the Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer tweets, general manager David Griffin has already revealed that he'd be open to trading it. Yes, that means Kevin Love is a possibility.
That's a topic for another time, though. If the Cavs keep the No. 1 selection, they already have enough to figure out, starting with who they pick.
However, unlike in years past, they can't possibly mess this one up.
What the Cavs Are Working With
Thanks to the glut of lottery picks the team has used over the past few years, there are a few positions that are already locked and loaded.
You can forget about Cleveland even thinking about taking a guard. Irving is the face of the franchise and the point guard of the future and, unless he and Dion Waiters have a regressing relationship, it's hard to imagine that the 2-guard is on the way out either.
Basically, there's not a chance that Dante Exum or any other guard is coming off the board first. And that eliminates the first potential screw-up.
Exum is a mysterious prospect, as his stock is based largely on speculation and a few tournaments in which he stood out. Personally, I'm a believer, and it seems as though most are on board, though that's by no means a universal statement.
But of the prospects projected to go in the top five, he's easily the riskiest. And Cleveland won't be taking him.
Now, before moving on, let's go ahead and run through the roster that's already locked in place (barring any trades) for the 2014-15 season:
|Cleveland's Depth Chart|
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Starter||Kyrie Irving||Dion Waiters||Alonzo Gee||Tristan Thompson||Anderson Varejao|
|Primary Backup||Jarrett Jack||Matthew Dellavedova||Sergey Karasev||Anthony Bennet||Tyler Zeller|
|Secondary Backup||Carrick Felix|
There are a couple notable takeaways.
One is the potential of the frontcourt. Even though Bennett had a horrific rookie season, he remains a player imbued with plenty of potential, one who could easily become a starter down the road. As we get further from the 2013 NBA draft, he becomes less of a punchline, and the arrival of this draft class will only ease the pressure as the focus on him inevitably declines.
Additionally, we can't forget about Sergey Karasev, a first-round pick last year who was always going to take a bit of development before becoming a quality rotation member. He could easily turn into a starting-caliber small forward down the road.
As a result, forward isn't as big a need for the Cavaliers as it might seem. It's still a need—particularly if the team isn't thrilled about waiting for potential to be realized—just not a dire one.
Can We Knock Out Any of the Elite Three?
If you want to consider Exum on the same level as Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker, that's perfectly fine. We can call them "The Quintessential Quartet."
It still doesn't change the fact that Cleveland won't be looking at Exum with the No. 1 pick. They have no reason to, as he'd just settle in as a backup guard or displace Waiters from the starting lineup. Quite simply, the Cavaliers aren't a strong enough team to build upon strengths and avoid addressing weaknesses.
That leaves Wiggins, Embiid and Parker.
Go surf the Internet and look for big boards. Almost without fail, you'll find the three aforementioned names sitting at the very top, mixed up in some order. Personally, I have that trio in the order listed above, but that's just my opinion.
There are six possible orders, and it's possible you'll get six different responses if you ask six people for their rankings.
Frankly, the order isn't important. Ultimately, Cleveland will be able to go with whoever is No. 1 on its board. That's the luxury of having the top overall pick, as the Cavs just need to make that one decision. They don't have to worry about who ranks No. 2 and No. 3, because those are essentially one and the same to them.
And again, the order isn't in question here. This is about whether or not Cleveland can eliminate one member of that NBA draft triumvirate.
Embiid is a center, and the Cavaliers could certainly use one of those.
Anderson Varejao is a high-quality big man—perhaps a bit underrated in many NBA circles—but he'll turn 32 years old before the start of the 2014-15 season, and he's only under contract through the end of this next campaign. Tyler Zeller is a good backup, but he'll never be anything more than that on a contending team, which is obviously what Cleveland is hoping to become.
So he's certainly in the picture.
As for the other two, they both play forward. Parker is big enough to play at power forward in many lineups and, while it's unlikely that Wiggins will ever play at the 4 without a serious small-ball mentality, that's not exactly problematic.
Remember, as established in the previous section, the two forward spots are needs. Not dire ones, but needs nonetheless.
The trio remains intact.
Can We Expect a Surprise?
"I’m just as surprised as everybody else," Bennett said after he was picked first overall, via Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com. "I didn’t really have any idea who’s going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I am just real happy."
How could he not be surprised?
It was absolutely shocking that Bennett was picked first. No one expected it, and that's really not an exaggeration. As Deveney wrote, "In the run-up to the draft, Bennett was among the five candidates that the Cavaliers could go for at No. 1, but he was considered a long shot. Either center Alex Len or Noel were the more likely picks, and the Cavs looked for a player to put next to forward Tristan Thompson."
Thing is, that wasn't new for Cleveland. Three of the franchise's past four lottery picks had been surprises, as Tristan Thompson was a reach at No. 4 in 2011, Dion Waiters was a shock at No. 4 in 2012 and Bennett was the coup de grace last year.
But this year, the trend ends.
Waiters and Thompson were affordable reaches, as they came three spots after the top overall selection. Bennett was a twist because the draft class was so weak that no players had truly established themselves as elite prospects.
In 2014, everything is different.
This is a hyped draft class with a trio of players clearly atop the board. Again, Exum could be argued as part of the elite group, but not with Cleveland leading off the proceedings.
There won't be any surprises, once more eliminating the possibility of another draft disaster.
Wiggins, Parker or Embiid?
Now we come to the biggest question of all.
For now, let's group Wiggins and Parker into one player, seeing as they play the same position. Given that all three are comparable enough talents that they're mixed around most every big board, this is fine to do. Talent alone isn't going to trump anything.
So, do the Cavs want to go forward or center?
Think about what Cleveland is trying to do.
The 2013-14 season was supposed to be a playoffs-or-bust campaign, even if it ultimately failed. Though I suppose getting the No. 1 pick is nice recompense for that failure...
The Cavaliers signed Andrew Bynum, hoping it would work out in their failure. It didn't, so they traded him for Luol Deng, even though the former Chicago Bull had a contract that would expire at the end of the season. They signed Jarrett Jack to a contract far too large, as they thought the veteran leadership and heady guard play would aid the playoff push.
And at the trading deadline, they moved for Spencer Hawes, making one last desperate gasp for playoff air.
It didn't work, but there's no longer any way to disguise the intent, especially after Mike Brown was fired at the end of the season. Mediocrity isn't going to cut it. This team has playoff hopes and dreams, and it isn't willing to wait for years before they're realized.
Because of that, Embiid isn't the pick. Even if he's going to develop into the best player from this draft class, he doesn't fit an immediate need. Varejao is still under contract and Hawes can be brought back during the offseason.
Embiid's best-case scenario as a rookie would involve making an immediate impact off the bench while serving as a fall-back option in case the starting center got injured yet again. That's just not enough, not for an impatient Dan Gilbert who is still waiting to make the playoffs for the first time since he lost his grip on LeBron.
As a result, one of the forwards has to be the pick.
Either one is ready to start from opening day of his first go-round in the Association, and both are talented enough to do exactly that. Go back and look at that depth chart above, and you'll have an awfully difficult time finding a single forward who would deserve to keep his starting role ahead of either Wiggins or Parker.
There just isn't one.
Now that the field has been dwindled down to just two players, the culling process becomes more about personal opinion than anything else. If you want to roll with Wiggins, that's understandable. So too is voicing support in favor of Parker.
As for me, I'm going with Wiggins, and it's because of his two-way ability.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Cavaliers finished No. 21 in the league in offensive rating, scoring only 104.2 points per 100 possessions. They allowed 107.7 points over the same span, which actually ranks slightly better.
This isn't the case of a team needing help on one end of the court. Cleveland needs a wing stopper to replace Deng (or to complement him if he's re-signed) and a scorer to ease pressure on the Irving/Waiters backcourt combo.
Parker is by no means a defensive liability, but he's not exactly a plus performer on that end of the court either.
Parker's defense has intermittently come under scrutiny this year, as he hasn't excelled on that end compared to Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins or Aaron Gordon.
He frequently got beat by quicker slashers and gave up a few critical layups. On the interior, he was often out of position and caught in no-man's land. That's a bad place to be, especially on pick-and-rolls and weak-side rotations.
He should improve, especially when he cleans up the mental errors. But he's no Wiggins.
"Parker will be a legitimate NBA scorer from the first day of his first training camp," explains Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. "But Andrew Wiggins is the superior athlete, which will translate on defense, and in transition."
Just in case you need to be reminded of that athleticism:
Wiggins has every physical tool you could possibly desire.
He can jump through the roof, fly down the court while keeping up with quicker guards and move laterally fast enough to stay in front of an opposing ball-handler. There really aren't many weaknesses in his physical profile, especially when age helps him bulk up a bit. Let's not forget that he's only 19, after all.
Again, there's no wrong pick here. Wiggin's defensive abilities just help make him right for the Cavaliers, and his position helps push him past Embiid, even if his teammate at Kansas reveals a clean bill of health before the draft.
"I always put myself No. 1 above anyone else, that’s just me," Wiggins said on ESPN's First Take, via USA Today's Nick Schwartz. "I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself."
The Cavaliers should too.
Then again, they can afford to go into the draft proceedings with plenty of confidence regardless of who's at No. 1 on their own board. To some degree, all three of the elites are can't-miss prospects, and Embiid is the iffiest of the bunch, simply because of his back.
Even if Cleveland elects to go with a center, though, it'd only be doing so with a guarantee that he's completely healthy and possesses no long-term concerns. If he flops then, it's a mistake that every team with a hole at center would make in the Cavaliers' shoes.
Essentially, the downtrodden organization is looking at trading the pick for a star like Love, selecting Wiggins, picking Parker or rolling with a healthy Embiid. Unless Griffin, Gilbert or another high-ranking front-office member is a weekend golfing buddy of Doug McDermott, Shabazz Napier or another non-elite prospect (non-elite in the sense that there shouldn't be No. 1 consideration), it's going to be impossible to mess this one up.
The Cavs shouldn't be downtrodden for long.
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