By Brandon Niles Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
The Cleveland Cavaliers won the May 21 NBA draft lottery and will have the first overall pick on June 27. This will be the second time in three years the Cavs have had the first pick, after they selected Duke point guard Kyrie Irving in 2011.
The Cavs had the third best odds of winning the lottery at 16 percent, behind the Charlotte Bobcats (20 percent) and Orlando Magic (25 percent). Lottery odds are assigned by record, as the team with the worst regular season record has the highest odds. The Magic wound up with the second pick, the Washington Wizards won the third choice and the Bobcats ended up fourth.
While a victory for Cleveland fans, this is a weak draft lacking the star power of recent seasons. There is no consensus top pick for the first time since 2006, when Italian forward Andrea Bargnani went first overall to the Toronto Raptors. This year’s draft is one that appears to be full of solid players who should help teams, but without a superstar player at the top.
Complicating the decision for Cleveland is that the one player who may be the best prospect, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, is coming off a torn ACL injury and may not be able to play until midway through next season. Furthermore, the other top prospects are at the point guard and shooting guard positions, two spots Cleveland has bolstered with Irving and the fourth overall pick from last year, Dion Waiters of Syracuse.
Because the draft is so weak at the top, it isn’t surprising the Cavs are hinting at an interest in trading the first pick. Often a team will gain more value acquiring a veteran with a draft pick than by drafting a college player, though this is unheard of with the first overall choice.
Several teams may be interested in moving up. The Bobcats may target Noel or Kansas’s skilled shooting guard Ben McLemore, who struggled in the NCAA tournament to close out the season. The Phoenix Suns, picking fifth, may also be interested in trading up to draft McLemore. Any team drafting in the top ten and needing help at the point may try to trade up for Michigan point guard Trey Burke, a likely target for the Magic’s second pick. The Cavs should have suitors if they want to deal, but the question is whether they can get enough value from a trade in this weak draft.
The last time a team traded the first overall pick was in 1993, when the Magic dealt Michigan forward Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors for the third overall pick, Memphis shooting guard Penny Hardaway. The trade occurred on draft night, and the Magic received three future first round picks in addition to Hardaway in the deal. That kind of compensation set the precedent for a team trying to move up in the draft, but it seems unlikely the Cavs will get that kind of offer.
Ultimately I think the Cavs will entertain offers, fail to get one that entices them, and draft Noel despite the injury. They could also draft Georgetown forward Otto Porter, who fills more of a need, but Noel has the most upside in this draft. The old adage is that it’s better to miss big if you’re going to miss on a draft pick. With question marks on every prospect, the Cavs will likely follow that advice.