Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
We all knew that replacing LeBron James was impossible and the Cleveland Cavaliers made the predictable cliff dive from the best record in the NBA to the worst record in the Eastern Conference (61 wins to 19). Despite the feeling that Cleveland sports are cursed and that LeBron’s departure meant another decade or so of pitiful play in Cleveland, the Cavaliers actually came out of their dreadful season with a pretty darn good rebuilding plan. After trading Mo Williams to the Clippers mid-season for Baron Davis AND a first-round pick, the Cavs ended up with the first and fourth overall picks in the 2011 NBA Draft. Even though it was a very weak draft class, the top five players were solid, potential all-star types, so Cleveland had a shot to put some pieces together.
Of course, the Cleveland curse proved to be a real thing as the Cavs selected Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson with their two picks. Here are my thoughts from draft day on their two selections.
I’ve been vocal about my disapproval with Cleveland picking Irving ever since the Cavs won the lottery but even though they were reportedly undecided on the pick until the last moment, they stuck with the popular belief and drafted the Duke point guard. It’s become tiresome for me to hear draft analysts tout Irving’s feel for the game, which is the main reason they give for Irving being the number one pick. I just can’t understand how you can say a guy has a great feel for the game when he played 11 games in college, four of which came against Princeton, Miami (Ohio), Colgate and Hampton. I know he had good numbers but he played 11 games! Talk about a small sample size. I’m sure you can find an 11-game stretch that makes half the stars in the NBA look like Michael Jordan.
I don’t think Irving will be a bust because I don’t think he’ll be flat out awful in the NBA. I could see him being Mike Conley or Mo Williams but those two guys aren’t even in the top 15 point guard discussion. You can definitely be a playoff team with Irving your point guard but he’s still not going to be worth the first overall pick in a draft that came in the year right after LeBron James left town.
Hit the jump for why I think Cleveland missed in the 2011 NBA Draft…
I know I’m probably in the minority when it comes to the Irving pick but to go with Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas, even with the buyout issues? That’s crazy.
Thompson did one thing pretty well in college: he drew fouls. He got to the line over seven times a game in his lone year at Texas, a pretty good mark for a big man in the Big 12. Of course, its not so good when you factor in Thompson’s 48% free throw shooting. So the one thing Thompson is good at plays into his biggest weaknesses. Sure, he can block shots and defend well but that’s not enough to make up for the abysmal free throw shooting or complete lack of an offensive game. Aside from finishing strong at the rim on putbacks or rolls, Thompson didn’t show a post-game as a Freshman and was inconsistent with his jumper. Thompson also rarely passed the ball and wasn’t a great rebounder. He was just a freshman so his potential to be a good defender and develop something on offense would be enough to make him a late lottery pick but to go with him at four over someone like Valanciunas, who many believe was one of the three most talented players in the draft, is just an awful move.
Looking back, the Cavs look even worse for not choosing the Brandon Knight/Derrick Williams combo with the 1/4 picks because now they have to settle for Irving and Thompson. I had high hopes for Cleveland when they received two top four picks but I can’t say that I’m impressed with the two players they got at the top of this draft.
The Cavs may have a shot to redeem themselves after they whiffed on those two picks simply because they are going to be awful again this season. Even if Kyrie Irving is a good player, a shortened training camp won’t help him adjust to the NBA game and neither will playing with the rest of the Cavs roster. With a top five or so pick in 2012 NBA Draft Cleveland would pretty much be guaranteed a superstar. They could potentially end up with Harrison Barnes or Jeremy Lamb to act as their perimeter scorer for the future or they could go after Jared Sullinger to give them a true low post threat or they could go with Perry Jones III who has LeBron’s skills in Kevin Durant’s body.
That’s pretty much what this season will be for the Cavs, as you can expect from a team that lost it’s entire franchise just two summers ago. They’ll be looking forward at the draft to see what they can end up. After amnestying Baron Davis, they’ll get a glimpse of Kyrie Irving running their offense for 36 minutes a night and they’ll also get to see him figure the game out after he lost that chance in college. And after trading J.J. Hickson to the Sacramento Kings for Omri Casspi, they’ll get to take a look at Thompson to determine whether or not he’ll be able to anchor their defense going forward. It will be a short test drive but it will be a valuable one; and even if the players don’t look so good, the reward is a superstar player in the draft.
The Cavs are only on the books for $24 million next season assuming they decline a $4 million team option on Boobie Gibson and Ramon Sessions picks up his $4 million player option. In the event that Sessions opts out to find a contender to play for (perhaps the point guard-less Lakers). Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, Manny Harris, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody, Ryan Hollins, Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison are all on expiring deals and Anderson Varejao (the only non-rookie Cleveland has locked up for more than two years) seems like a likely trade candidate to be traded mid-season because he doesn’t have value to a rebuilding team as a glue guy.
Assuming they keep Varejao, the Cavs will enter the 2012 off-season with a core group of Irving, Christian Eyenga, Omri Casspi, Tristan Thompson and Varejao. Some of those guy may not be core worthy players but that is actually all of Cleveland’s players on guaranteed deals for next season. With an addition like Harrison Barnes via the draft and some other free agents, Cleveland will be well on their way to an eighth seed in the coming years. Of course, I think they’d be in a better position with Derrick Williams and Brandon Knight or even Irving and Jonas Valanciunas, but the Cavs will work with what they have and their fans are lucky that they only have to watch this version of the Cavs 66 times this season.
Prediction: 16-50, 5th in the Central Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference