There are three consensus candidates to have the distinguished privilege of being the No. 1 overall pick in what's perceived to be a star-studded 2014 NBA draft. Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are in the running, along with Duke standout Jabari Parker.
The Cleveland Cavaliers hold the top choice for the third time in four years. Despite their embarrassment of riches in the draft lottery, they have not even sniffed the postseason since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.
FoxSportsOhio.com insider Sam Amico talked to three different scouts—all of whom had differing opinions on what the Cavs should do:
One scout likened Jabari Parker to Paul Pierce, says #Cavs "gotta take this guy." Another insisted Andrew Wiggins. A third said Joel Embiid.— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) May 23, 2014
There is a possibility that Cleveland trades the pick, but given that all three of the top prospects would fill massive needs on its roster, it would be wise for the Cavs to cash in and take who they think the best player available is. Below is a closer look at each prospect, their skill sets and how they might fit in Cleveland.
Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Ridiculous athletic ability makes Wiggins tough to stay in front of and allows him to be an excellent perimeter defender. His agility allows him to jump into passing lanes, alter shots and make game-changing plays that translate to instant offense.
Those are good qualities in a potential franchise cornerstone, but Wiggins' rawness and limited offensive arsenal make him a bit of a question mark. Some have also wondered about how much of a competitive streak Wiggins plays with, since he lacked assertiveness as a freshman at times.
Quotes such as these won't help Wiggins' cause to reverse some of the criticism he's fielded, per ESPN's First Take:
However, DraftExpress.com's Derek Bodner feels that such a perception isn't accurate:
I really think that people conflate undeveloped skills with lack of killer mentality with regards to Andrew Wiggins.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) May 19, 2014
Wiggins is the biggest project of the three players vying for the top draft spot, yet he also may have the most upside. With his size at 6'8" and plentiful room to fill out that frame, there is a chance that Wiggins could indeed evolve into more of an attacking scorer.
Given the Cavs' need to fill out the 3 position—a noticeable weakness in the post-James era—new general manager David Griffin will no doubt be tempted by Wiggins' upside. Placing him on the perimeter along with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters would give the Cavs so much firepower and explosiveness. Depending on who the new coach is, an uptempo offense featuring that trio would be terrifying to deal with.
There is the chance that Wiggins busts, though, leaving Cleveland with yet another woeful draft. If the franchise wants to win sooner than later—and it should, based on the recent poor results—taking a flier on Wiggins may not be the best—or at least safest—strategy.
Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The more polished small forward is Parker, whose positional fit, superior all-around game and readier NBA body would likely do more to help the Cavs win in the immediate future. Parker is a nightmare locomotive to handle in the open floor. Shades of James, to draw a relevant comparison.
Although his predraft workout was against air, there are skills on display from Parker here that Wiggins simply doesn't have, at least yet:
ESPN personality Dick Vitale believes with strong conviction that the Cavs should distinguish Parker as the first player off the board:
Cavs did not listen last yr as we said take VICTOR OLADIPO - THIS yr listen take JABARI PARKER @JPiz1— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) May 21, 2014
But Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor feels that while Wiggins fields some blame for how the Jayhawks fared in the NCAA tournament, perhaps Parker should be called out more for coming up small in the Big Dance:
If you're criticizing Andrew Wiggins for what you consider a "poor" NCAA tournament then you better do the same for Parker. He went 4-14.— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) May 21, 2014
There shouldn't be much concern about Parker's desire to win or his professionalism at the NBA level. It at least appeared that he made a calculated decision to enter the draft in the first place, and that he was genuinely conflicted due to his allegiance to Duke, the program that kept him fixed in the spotlight.
Check out this testimony from Parker, per an early March report by the Associated Press' Joedy McCreary:
I really wasn't a guy that idolizes fame and self-glorification. Really, what drives me is the team goal and my responsibility (to teammates), so I guess being grounded really helps me, and the friendships that I have with these guys on the team kind of blinds a lot of things that come my way. [...] Really, I've been set up for a good position where Duke is setting me up for a lot of exposure, and it's part of my responsibility to show up for them because the team that we have, I play a really vital role. That's what drives me, just to be there for my team.
That doesn't sound like someone who is going to come into an NBA locker room with a big head, and it's precisely the type of personality the Cavs could use. There is an innate confidence that emanates Parker in the way he plays the game and how just about every move he makes on the court has purpose.
The fact that Parker can rebound and even pass extremely well from his position project him as a great player as he makes the leap to the pros. His instincts distinguish him from Wiggins in terms of his preparation to contribute right away to a winning cause in the Association.
Cleveland may indeed regret passing up the chance to draft Parker, who has the makings of being a franchise-altering player and may become the best player on a championship-caliber squad someday.
Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Then there's the Embiid dilemma. A legitimate 7-footer with bewildering, finessed skills on offense and an impenetrable pillar in the paint at the other end of the court, Embiid is a rare specimen. An efficient 62.6 field-goal percentage and 2.6 blocks per contest give an idea of the impact he can have.
ESPN's Chad Ford recorded Embiid's massive measurements during the prodigy's recent impressive workout:
Joel Embiid's measurements at the workout on Fri: 7' 1" in shoes, 7' 5.75" wingspan, 9' 5.5" standing reach.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 25, 2014
Centers aren't as prominent in the modern NBA, but if Embiid can stay healthy, he has the chance to revolutionize the position with his combination of skills. These attributes bring to mind a bigger, stronger but not quite as guard-like version of Anthony Davis, the 2012 No. 1 draft pick.
That aforementioned health factor is a big "if." A back injury forced Embiid to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, causing his sensational 2013-14 campaign to come screeching to a halt. Embiid's absence can at least be part of the blame for Wiggins' uneven performances and lackluster exit from March Madness.
At least one prominent figure on the NBA beat has faith in Embiid as the top draft choice in Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Watching Joel Embiid in workout for league executives in Santa Monica. Impossible to imagine passing on him at No. 1.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 23, 2014
The problem with taking Embiid for Cleveland is that it would further complicate an already crowded frontcourt rotation featuring Anderson Varejao and past first-round picks Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller. And that's not to mention free agent Spencer Hawes, if he remains with the squad.
As much as the Cavs could use such a skilled big man, there have been few success stories with regard to centers since 1998.
Who should be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft?
Based on the lack of medical red flags and polish, Parker seems like the most logical pick for the Cavs for both the short-term and the long haul. The pair of Jayhawks may be better suited to land elsewhere, and if they can prove themselves to be true superstars in Milwaukee or Philadelphia, Wiggins and Embiid will have dismissed the doubters, especially those in Griffin and Cleveland's front office.
There is almost no bad pick at the top spot, as all three options are considered to be rather safe and certain. The danger Griffin and the Cavs have to be wary of is choosing wrong, and watching one or both of the remaining players use not going No. 1 as a chip on their shoulder as they set out to shine in the NBA. Given how many opportunities Cleveland has had to get it right in recent years, it seems the organization has to get it right at some point. The hope is that it's on June 26.