The Cleveland Cavaliers should be looking at three options with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. There's no reason to overthink this one—it's between Kansas center Joel Embiid and small forward Andrew Wiggins and Duke combo forward Jabari Parker.
This is an A-B-C multiple-choice question with no wrong answer, unless the Cavs end up choosing D: "None of the Above."
Of course, general manager David Griffin should be listening to, as well as baiting, trade offers for the pick, but if we're talking prospects, there are only three guys in this field worthy of going first overall.
When breaking down Cleveland's decision, you have to look at it through two separate lenses. The first is with Embiid's back medically cleared. The other is with it not. Because if doctors don't clear him by draft day, forget about it—the conversation immediately shrinks down to a two-man debate: Wiggins versus Parker.
The Cavs just can't afford to take on any risk at all with a pick this valuable, especially after botching it in 2013. Any setbacks, questions or concerns raised by doctors regarding Embiid's back—seeing as he just suffered a stress fracture—should automatically eliminate him from consideration.
That shouldn't be the case for every team—just for the Cavs with Wiggins and Parker both still on the board.
But let's first look at the Cavaliers' options through lens one, that has Embiid being medically cleared.
He did tell Sirius XM radio recently that's how he felt.
Healthy Embiid versus Wiggins, Parker
Prior to going down in early March, Embiid had been the guy. He was taking over games at each end of the floor—controlling them from the paint as a post scorer and rim protector.
Though Parker and Wiggins have been more productive scorers, neither is capable of making the same level of impact as the 250-pound 7-footer with nimble feet, soft hands and a live motor.
You saw what happened when Embiid went down early in March. Kansas went with him. The Jayhawks lost three of six games—one to West Virginia, which didn't make the NCAA tournament, one to Iowa State in the conference tournament and one to Stanford in the Round of 32 of March Madness. You might remember Wiggins finishing with just four points on six shots in 34 minutes that game. Or you might not.
Throughout the season, Embiid showcased franchise-centerpiece potential as a two-way, long-term anchor in the middle. The kind you wouldn't mind building around if you got the opportunity.
And the Cavs have it with a need for a big man. Anderson Varejao is no longer the future. I'm not even sure he's the present.
This is a chance for Cleveland to land that go-to big man who makes his teammates better just by being out on the floor. And at 20 years old, having played organized ball for only about three years, the room he has for growth is off the charts.
Wiggins might be a little safer, but a full-strength Embiid makes a bigger immediate impact while offering the higher ceiling down the road. If the Cavs want to play the upside card, Embiid is the play, assuming doctors clear him prior to the draft.
The safest play of anyone is Parker, who will probably enter next season as the favorite for 2015 Rookie of the Year. At 6'8", 235 pounds with a polished inside-outside repertoire, he should be able to put points on the board from day one as a pro. And he's also a strong fit in Cleveland's lineup, assuming Luol Deng leaves as a free agent. The Cavs need a go-to option at forward so Kyrie Irving doesn't have to be that guy at point guard.
Parker only excels on one side of the ball, and that limits his ceiling when compared to Wiggins or Embiid. Still, Parker presents the least risk of any of the three, while offering some big-time offensive upside of his own.
The Cavs can't go wrong with Wiggins at No. 1, but if you're going to pass on Parker's certainty in favor of upside, you might as well take the one who's got the most, and that's a healthy Joel Embiid.
A full-strength Embiid versus Wiggins—the two guys with the most potential—should make for some interesting debate in draft rooms. If you're leaning toward Wiggins, it's because you're comfortable between the balance of upside and safety he's offering, and you're uncomfortable with a big man with a back injury prior to his first pro game.
If you're leaning toward Embiid, it's because you believe in the value associated with centers who can dominate at both ends of the floor.
In my opinion, unless there's evidence that Embiid will be unusually more vulnerable to injury than most, than I don't know how you pass on this type of talent if it's unscathed.
If it turns out this back injury is just an isolated, temporary speed bump, the way it looks like it was for Andre Drummond, who suffered from the same issue last season, then Embiid is going to make whoever passes on him look awfully foolish one day.
Wiggins versus Parker
If for whatever reason Embiid doesn't check out prior to the draft, the Cavs will likely (hopefully) be choosing between Wiggins and Parker, who each have skill sets needed by this particular team.
And again, the Cavs can't go wrong with either. But if they're looking to take that home run swing, and the results of Embiid's physical make him a non-option, then the obvious play is Wiggins, who's got a higher two-way ceiling than Parker.
Wiggins has the potential to one day become a 20-point scorer and all-first-team defender. With world-class athleticism, a promising offensive game, both as a shooter and attacker, and tremendous lockdown tools, there isn't much else to ask for from a talent perspective when evaluating a 19-year-old wing.
At this point, the biggest hole in Wiggins' profile is his inability to assert himself in a timely fashion. The talent is there—it's a matter of him tapping into it when his team needs it most. And he struggled to do that for Kansas at various times throughout the season.
Many have questioned his alpha-dog mentality—can he be the guy to go get you a bucket in the fourth quarter of a one-point game?
He was a no-show for Kansas in its disappointing postseason loss to Stanford. Wiggins still has to figure out some of the nuances of the game before he's able to take his talent and convert it into team wins. And that's why Parker is the better option if you're looking to improve this roster by next season.
If you're drafting Wiggins, you're doing so with the hope he evolves into an All-Star three to four years down the road. But he probably doesn't make the Cavs significantly better in 2015.
Parker does. He'll immediately give the Cavaliers an option to go to for offense, whether it's on the wing or in the post. At this stage, based on where they're at in their development, Wiggins is a lot easier to take out of a game, while Parker can beat you from more spots and angles on the floor.
The downside with Parker is that if he and Wiggins both maximize their potential, it's Wiggins who'll end up the better player.
Either way, both of these guys justify going No. 1 overall, and as of May 2014, the better option is all in the eyes of the beholder and the strategy he plans to rebuild with.
Trading Down or Out
With Embiid, Wiggins and Parker all being strong options, the Cavs might want to think about exploring a trade down to No. 3. You know Philadelphia was likely disappointed with falling to No. 3 in the lottery—the Sixers, who also have a pick at No. 10, along with five others in the second round, might be interested in moving up to No. 1 to secure Wiggins or Parker, given their need for a forward after drafting a point guard and center last year.
I'm just spitballing here, but if the Cavs were able to get either Embiid, Wiggins or Parker at No. 3, as well as another pick (maybe No. 10) or asset from Philadelphia, that could be something to think about.
The Cavs could also look to move the pick for established talent, though this is always tough to do, particularly with a No. 1 overall pick.
|2014 NBA Draft Board|
|7||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||PG/SG||Sophomore|
|15||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||PF||Senior|
|16||Gary Harris||Michigan State||SG||Sophomore|
|21||P.J. Hairston||Texas Legends (D-League)||SG||(Junior)|
|26||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||SF||Sophomore|
|28||Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||SF||Sophomore|
|30||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||SF||Senior|
Post-Lottery Draft Thoughts
- The Orlando Magic have the fourth pick, meaning Embiid, Wiggins and Parker will likely be off the board. If the Magic draft Dante Exum or Marcus Smart, that means they probably won't be thinking point guard at No. 12. Outside of the Lakers, nobody down the board has a serious need for a point guard. And this year, there are five of them worthy of top-20 looks—Exum, Smart, Tyler Ennis, Shabazz Napier and Elfrid Payton. Just based on need and the other solid options, one or two of these point guards is going to fall and offer some awesome late-round value. I wouldn't be surprised to see a team trade up into the lottery to try and grab one.
- According to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com, the Sacramento Kings have already put their lottery pick on the block. But at No. 8, the Kings are guaranteed getting either Exum, Smart, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon or Croatian Dario Saric—all terrific prospects who fit seamlessly into Sacramento's lineup. The team can build with any of them. Unless the Kings can get legitimate young talent with some NBA production in return, they shouldn't move this pick.
- The Utah Jazz are in a tough spot at No. 5. If Exum is off the board, they can go with Smart, who at 6'3", would be paired with 6'1" Trey Burke to form a pretty small backcourt. Or they could go big with Randle, Vonleh or Gordon, though with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors returning, it would be getting a little crowded up front. How about Saric? He can really play all over the floor, and he's absolutely tearing it up right now abroad.
- There's inevitably going to be a few first-round-caliber prospects in this draft who overflow into Round 2. And they're going to fall right in the laps of the same teams drafting No. 1 through No. 5 (except Orlando). Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Utah make up four of the top-five second-round picks. And these teams could very well be looking at first-round value available when they're back on the clock again in Round 2.
- Regardless of what big board you look at, this first round will be loaded with solid options. You can get the same value at No. 25 as you can at No. 15. You can get mid-to-late first-round value with a top-10 second-round pick. I said it earlier this year, the depth of this draft is the real story of 2014—not the star power.