On June 26, the Cleveland Cavaliers will tell the world who they've made the third No. 1 pick to join their franchise in the last four years. This player, whether it's Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker or some shocking selection out of left field, will follow in the footsteps of Kyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett.
Well, hopefully just the footsteps of Irving.
The Cavaliers shocked the world when a 1.7 percent chance of moving from No. 9 to No. 1 turned into a 100 percent guarantee they'd be making the first selection in the 2014 NBA draft, barring any trades between now and then.
And now the pressure is on.
Cleveland is being granted quite a luxury by gaining access to a trio of franchise-changing prospects, but it's also more important than ever to absolutely nail this pick. Any mistakes will be quite problematic, particularly given the recent portion of Cleveland's track record when making first-round picks.
There Will Be a Star from This Draft Class
If you go back through the annals of NBA history, there's been at least one star produced by most every draft class. Franchise players have to come from somewhere, after all.
This year will not be one of the exceptions.
Chances are, there will be at least one star player coming from the back end of the lottery, maybe even from the non-lottery portion of the first round. This crop of prospects is just that deep, overflowing with talent well past the top few players on most big boards.
But that's not Cleveland's concern. No one would blame general manager David Griffin if he passed on Zach LaVine at No. 1 only to watch the UCLA guard blossom into one of the league's MVP candidates. That's just an example, so don't get carried away with talk of LaVine's potential.
Ultimately, only three players matter to the Cavaliers—Wiggins, Embiid and Parker.
There's a solid chance all three become stars. Seriously.
Wiggins is just brimming over with two-way potential, and it's quite possible that he becomes a true franchise centerpiece while contributing in just about every area imaginable. And he believes in himself as well, as he explained on ESPN's First Take, per Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv:
I always put myself No. 1 above anybody else. That's just me. I got a lot of confidence in myself. ... I think for me, Jabari or Joel, I think we all want to go No. 1. But it's not the end of the world if we don't because there's been a lot of great players that ended up to be the best ever, and great Hall of Famers, that never went No. 1 and still had a great career.
He's not the only one.
Just peruse the Internet and you'll find all sorts of claims about Wiggins' potential, ranging from him being a possible All-Star to others who bring up the Hall of Fame. It's hard to tell if it's even possible to be hyperbolic about this Kansas product.
But the other two prospects aren't too different.
Embiid might have an even loftier ceiling. After all, his ability to protect the rim on one end and dazzle with fancy footwork on the other makes him a dream for any team in need of a quality center to build around. And speaking of dreams, he's no stranger to Hakeem Olajuwon comparisons:
And then there's Parker, who may well be the most NBA-ready of the bunch.
Though there are questions about the former Blue Devil's defensive ability, he's an offensive powerhouse who can score in just about any method a coach can dream up. From his interior savvy to his perimeter marksmanship, from his half-court creation abilities to his status as a freight train in transition, Parker can do it all as a scorer.
All three of them might turn into bona fide stars in the Association. At least two of them most likely will. One absolutely will.
The Cavs can't afford to pick one and be left out as the others blossom into the players they were expected to become. That's the main source of pressure in this draft, but it's not the only reason they can't afford to do anything but nail the top pick.
Bucking a Trend
Even the staunchest supporters of the Cavaliers can't deny the spotty track record that comes as a product of the franchise's drafting ability.
I mean, just take a look at the first-round picks in the last five years:
|Christian Eyenga||2009||No. 30|
|Kyrie Irving||2011||No. 1|
|Tristan Thompson||2011||No. 4|
|Dion Waiters||2012||No. 4|
|Tyler Zeller||2012||No. 17 (via trade)|
|Anthony Bennett||2013||No. 1|
|Sergey Karasev||2013||No. 19|
How many of those selections have actually been successful?
Christian Eyenga only played in 50 games before he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He's appeared in just one contest since that move. So he most assuredly doesn't qualify.
The rest are trickier.
The selection of Irving was undoubtedly a positive in 2011, but picking Tristan Thompson was a massive reach. He's developed into a serviceable big man, but the stagnation of his offensive improvement doesn't make him much of a keeper, and it's certainly hard to justify his status as a top-four pick.
Grantland's Zach Lowe has a similarly pessimistic take on the part of his career that has already happened:
Thompson is a thornier choice [for a contract extension]. He declined a bit in Year 3, he can't shoot, and he doesn't protect the rim well enough to play heavy minutes at center. Team executives are increasingly wary of big men who can play only power forward and cannot shoot 3s. That's Thompson, and Griffin has spoken openly about the need to find more shooting from all positions.
There's plenty of time for the 23-year-old to make good on his lofty potential, though. He was one of my favorites for Most Improved Player heading into the 2013-14 season, based largely on the preseason improvements he showed after switching shooting hands.
That obviously didn't pan out. Maybe it will in the future, but for now, he's a bit of a bust.
In 2012, Cleveland added both Tyler Zeller (a rotation big without much more upside) and Dion Waiters. That draft doesn't look particularly bad in hindsight, especially now that Waiters is showing signs of a massive breakout in the near future.
During the second half of the 2013-14 campaign, Waiters averaged 19.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 37.6 percent beyond the arc. He looked like a future star, but only time will tell if he can maintain that performance while playing alongside Irving.
His career has been quite an up-and-down one thus far, filled with first-half lows, second-half highs and plenty of concerns about chemistry.
Is he a bust? Absolutely not, especially after the concluding part of his sophomore season.
But is he justifying his draft slot? Not quite yet.
Then there's 2013.
It will take plenty more time to evaluate Sergey Karasev and Bennett, but their rookie seasons were quite problematic. The former barely played in the Association, spending a large chunk of time with the NBA D-League affiliate, and the latter was historically awful for a No. 1 pick.
"It's very early, but right now, he's looking like the worst in the past 20 years," ESPN's Chad Ford espoused in late December, via The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade. "That includes Greg Oden. Oden was injured all the time, but when he played, he at least looked like a No. 1 pick."
The rest of his rookie season didn't do much to change that opinion.
Bennett finished the year averaging 4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game, shooting 35.6 percent from the field, 24.5 percent beyond the arc and 63.8 percent at the charity stripe. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his player efficiency rating was a putrid 6.9, and his effective field-goal percentage an awful 38.4 percent.
It seems as though I'm in the minority here, but I actually wouldn't be surprised if Bennett makes up for that moving forward. There were signs of potential, and an offseason of hard work—especially on the heels of such a massive reality check—will serve him well. So too will the diminished spotlight when a new No. 1 pick replaces him at the center of the media maelstrom.
A bounce-back season from Bennett, improvement from both Thompson and Karasev and consistency from Waiters could drastically change the perception of this team's fortune in the draft, but there's still no denying it's a bit shaky at the moment.
In 2014, that could change. There's a new general manager in charge now, as David Griffin is taking over for Chris Grant, who made all the picks since Eyenga was selected by Danny Ferry's regime in 2009.
Getting off on the right foot is of paramount importance, this year more than ever.
Last year, there was a distinct "playoffs or bust" feel in Cleveland, one significantly promoted by the offseason signings of Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack. Neither worked out, though at least Jack wasn't a total disaster.
During the season, the team traded for both Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, both with the intent to push the Cavs into the postseason for the first time since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.
Do you have confidence in the Cavaliers front office?
Once more, neither one worked out. Hawes at least played quite well, but it was too little, too late.
Does that mentality change this year? Absolutely not. Making the postseason is even more important than before, especially since contract extension talks with Irving are looming in the not-so-distant horizon.
Everything begins with the draft, and the pressure is all the way up in Cleveland.