The Cleveland Cavaliers essentially have four options with their No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
One of them involves trading the opening selection of the June 26 proceedings for an established star or additional picks in the first round of the deep draft, but that's a topic for another time. Here, we're focusing on the other three realistic choices: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
After all, those three former freshman phenoms have established themselves at the top of just about every big board. Dante Exum might work his way up into that class for some teams, but not for an organization that already boasts the services of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
That said, these pros and cons aren't based on the players' ability to fit in with the current Cleveland roster. Consider them the most positive and negative aspects of scouting reports, assuming the Cavaliers are operating under a "draft the best player available" strategy.
There are no wrong options here. It's just about finding the one that's the most right.
It's impossible to lead off without thinking about the untapped potential.
Few players in recent memory have possessed higher ceilings than Wiggins, who spent his freshman year at Kansas displaying incredible two-way upside on a regular basis, even if it didn't come quite as consistently as most would like and many expected.
Games like his 17-point, 19-rebound outing against Iowa State aren't easy to overlook. Neither is the 41-point masterpiece he put together against West Virginia at the very end of his regular season, especially since he also added eight rebounds, two assists, five steals and four blocks to his final line.
With his breathless athleticism and incredible physical tools, it's easy to get lost in the display of effortless ability.
Wiggins has the potential to develop into an absolutely dominant offensive player, as he can finish at the rim by skying over anyone, knock down perimeter jumpers and create his own looks off the bounce. And somehow, he's better on the other end of the court.
At worst, Wiggins seems capable of becoming one of the better perimeter stoppers in the Association. He seems to genuinely enjoy shutting down his man—with the exception of a few attention lapses—and the combination of athleticism, size, length, lateral quickness and ahead-of-his-age instincts makes for a virtually unstoppable combination.
Well, I suppose "unstoppable" is the wrong word here, since Wiggins is the one doing the stopping, but you get the point.
Basically, you name a skill, and Wiggins has the ability to thrive in that area down the road. He may not be a finished product yet, but he can be tailored into just about any type of player by the right coaching staff; there's that much innate ability contained within his 6'8" frame.
Counting on untapped potential is always a risky endeavor, especially when selecting at No. 1. Teams can't afford to miss with the top overall selection, or else they're bound to end up making another one shortly thereafter, thereby continuing the rebuilding process for longer than anticipated.
If anyone knows that, it's Cleveland.
But that's more of a universal con than one that applies solely to the Canadian phenom. Let's get a bit more specific.
The primary concern with Wiggins comes above his shoulders. His mental makeup never stood out during his one year receiving instructions from Bill Self, as he found himself playing passive basketball far too often. He wasn't nearly assertive enough until the very end of his one and only regular season with the Jayhawks, and that passivity makes it uncertain whether he can ever develop into a true No. 1 option for an NBA squad.
As an anonymous scout told Ryen Russillo for Grantland, there are still quite a few offensive holes:
Wiggins has offensive holes in his game — no dribble, no pass, streaky shooter. His sex appeal is only his athleticism. I’m not saying he’s one of these athletes that comes into the league and doesn’t know how to play basketball, but he’s behind the other three guys on my board.
That wasn't the only negativity coming from the mouth of that scout, though some of what he said isn't safe enough for work for me to quote it here. You'll have to check that out for yourself.
Nonetheless, the point is well taken.
Wiggins has the ability to develop all of these areas, especially because he's proven to be quite coachable, but there are no guarantees with him. Even some of the most talented players in the history of the NBA draft have been undone by what rests atop their shoulders.
Offense, offense, offense.
Parker spent his freshman year with the Duke Blue Devils averaging 19.1 points per game while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 35.8 percent beyond the arc. He was the clear-cut No. 1 option for one of the top teams in the NCAA, and the pressure never fazed him.
Not even close.
If any of the top prospects have a polished, NBA-ready offensive game, it would be this 19-year-old forward. After all, his numbers don't even begin to give his skill set enough credit; Parker can score in just about every method imaginable.
He has a silky jumper with a consistent stroke, and it's one that's repeatable regardless of whether he's spotting up, curling off a screen or creating his own shot off the bounce. That type of versatility is virtually unmatched by the other top scorers in this loaded draft class, and Parker brings even more to the table.
The Duke product has shown nice footwork in the post, which is a huge advantage for a player who could spend a lot of time at small forward, and his athleticism has become massively underrated.
Is Parker ever going to hang with Wiggins in a jumping contest? Absolutely not, but he can certainly hold his own in the transition game. Between his ball-handling, finishing ability and combination of leaping skills and physicality, Parker is more than capable of doing a convincing freight train impersonation in the open court.
Defense, defense, defense.
While Parker is a polished offensive prospect who can immediately function as a top scorer for the Cavs (or anyone else he ends up playing for), he's also going to be a liability on the less glamorous end of the court, just as he was throughout his time in Durham.
The lack of point-preventing prowess popped up throughout the year, but the postseason was particularly putrid for Parker. Against Mercer, the forward wasn't even able to stay on the court during crunch-time situations, as he simply couldn't keep his man from finding the rim:
NBA scouts killing Jabari & Rodney Hood defensive efforts today. What does it say when Coach K has to sub you out on defense against Mercer?— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) March 21, 2014
I was thinking the same thing when I saw Coach K repeatedly sub Jabari Parker out on defense late: He's REALLY gotta get better on that end.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) March 21, 2014
Bleacher Report's Daniel O'Brien was particularly harsh on Parker's defense, and for good reason:
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. ...
... The foot-speed issue is the one that may concern NBA decision-makers the most. Parker will be able to guard some post players, but not all of them, so he'll have to spend time on swingmen.
Ultimately, Parker doesn't have the physical tools necessary to thrive on defense, especially because he doesn't really have a defined position. While he might have underrated athleticism, it doesn't manifest itself in that all-important lateral quickness.
Is his offense good enough to make up for the deficit? Obviously, or else he wouldn't be considered a potential No. 1 pick and one of the most NBA-ready prospects.
But the defensive woes do limit his long-term ceiling rather significantly.
It's not every day that a center prospect draws legitimate Hakeem Olajuwon comparisons.
Embiid does, and for good reason.
Even though he's only been playing competitive basketball for a few years, the Kansas big man has already asserted himself as the player with arguably the highest ceiling in this stacked draft class. He's one of the few guys who legitimately improved each time he stepped onto the court during the 2013-14 season, as his defensive presence grew while he kept gaining confidence on the offensive end.
A terrific athlete, Embiid has great shot-blocking instincts and often rotates to the right spot, which is impressive for a player with so little experience. Playing volleyball before his basketball career began clearly had a positive impact, as his timing is just phenomenal for a 20-year-old big man.
Offensively, Embiid has shown flashes of being able to do just about everything—dazzling with his footwork in the post (as you can see below), hitting mid-range jumpers and eventually expanding his range, putting the ball on the floor, distributing the rock on the interior and showcasing a soft touch around the hoop.
By now, you've probably seen that highlight, but it's impressive nonetheless.
How many freshmen could pull that off? Better yet, how many freshmen without too much prep school experience could do such a convincing imitation of the infamous Dream Shake?
Historically, big men have almost always been central figures in title pursuits, and there's none better in this year's class. Eventually, he could turn into a completely dominant player on both ends of the court, which is rare regardless of position, much less for a true 7-footer.
Embiid isn't ready to dominate right off the bat, as there's going to be a rather significant adjustment period.
There's a steep developmental curve for just about any NBA prospect, but centers typically take that to an extreme. Embiid, given his lack of experience, is not going to be an exception to that rule, particularly because his stock is steeped in upside more than in prior production.
After all, the big man averaged only 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game during his one season playing alongside Wiggins, which would make him one of the lowest-scoring No. 1 picks ever.
Plus, there's the injury issue.
A stress fracture in his back kept Embiid out of the Big 12 tournament and the ensuing March Madness festivities, and there's no telling whether that will pop up again. It's not easy for a 7-footer with a 250-pound frame to sprint up and down the court as quickly as this big man does, and back injuries don't always go away forever after they disappear for the first time.
Who is the best prospect in this draft class?
That's what makes him the riskiest of the three options.
Sure, Embiid has the most upside. Sure, center is a more important position than the forward spots occupied by Wiggins and Parker. But if his back flares up, he could follow a career path not unlike the one Andrew Bynum is currently heading down, just minus the attitude concerns.
The NBA draft is all about balancing risk and reward, and Embiid makes for a dangerous—but potentially rewarding—seesaw between the two ends of the spectrum.