Cavaliers’ Needs and Possible Picks

Isaac Okoro
The Cleveland Cavaliers will pick no worse than sixth in the 2020 NBA Draft, and Auburn's versatile forward Isaac Okoro may be the best fit for the team's needs. (Photo by Kelly Donoho | Auburn Athletics)

If Cavs fans were expecting a drama-free environment in Cleveland after LeBron’s escape to LA, then they were wrong. This season was a rollercoaster, but instead of fighting for playoff seeding, Cleveland was fighting for lottery balls. Between John Beilein’s numerous trip-ups, Kevin Love’s outbursts, and unexpected trades, the Cavs found themselves in the center of attention more often than anticipated.

There are plenty of negatives for the team, as is expected when you have the second worst record in the NBA, but if you squint hard enough, you can start to see a bright future beginning to take form. After the All-Star break, Cleveland had a respectable 5-6 record. With J.B. Bickerstaff taking over for Beilein and the addition of Andre Drummond, things took a turn for the better.

As of now, though, the Cavaliers have work to do. Not one of the 22 teams invited to Orlando, their attention shifts towards the draft. Looking at the roster, a lot of questions come up. There are numerous holes that they will have to look at addressing sooner or later, but a golden opportunity is approaching in the 2020 NBA Draft to add to the Cavs’ slowly expanding young core.

Breaking Down the Cavs’ Roster

Currently, the guard position is where the majority of Cleveland’s youth is amassed. Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, a rookie and sophomore respectively, manned the starting 1 & 2 spots throughout the majority of the season. Both are undersized and struggled to defend physical backcourts. Though Garland displayed some creativity, neither possesses the natural playmaking of a true point guard.

Scoring is where the two separate themselves. Garland is shifty and smooth. With a sweet handle and flawless form on his pull-up, it feels like only a matter of time before his efficiency spikes up. He barely shot over 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from three. However, prior to the season, DG didn’t play in Summer League and only participated in five college games due to injuries. A slow start was to be expected.

In Sexton’s second NBA season, he has established himself as a pure bucket. The Alabama product has put up big numbers on efficient percentages. Always a relentless attacker with mind-bending speed, he has also developed a lethal 3-point shot since his college days. How “Sexland” will fit together in the future is where the question lies. Hoping that they become Lillard and McCollum 2.0 is probably wishful thinking; even if they do, the Portland duo has seen limited success together.

Kevin Porter Jr. may be the difference-maker. A superb athlete with an advanced offensive skill set, he displayed brilliant flashes in college. Due to off-the-court issues, he slipped to the very end of the first round. While those issues have mainly vanished in the NBA, the flashes haven’t. At his best, Porter displays the potential to be the best of Cleveland’s three young guards. Unlike the others, KPJ has legit size and displayed moments of solid defensive instincts. He may have the ability to play and guard positions 1 through 3 in the future.

The Cavaliers have a few more intriguing pieces who could potentially be included in their young core. On the wing, there is Dylan Windler and Cedi Osman. Windler was unable to make his anticipated debut due to injury, but the primary talent he brings to the table is elite shooting. Osman, a third-year player, seems to be trending nicely towards a solid 3-and-D player with a little bit extra in his bag.

Down low, Drummond and Larry Nance Jr may be a little too old to be considered young in NBA terms anymore, but both are in the early stages of their prime. Both still seem to be improving different aspects of their games each year, especially Nance, who is best known for his dunking, but has vastly improved his 3-point shot, ball handling, and passing to become a versatile and dynamic player.

Rounding out the Cavs team is the trio of 2016 champions, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova, along with some young-”ish” depth pieces in Dante Exum, Jordan Bell, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Dean Wade. Thompson and Dellavedova are Cleveland’s only remaining free agents after Drummond recently announced his intentions to pick up his player option.

After assessing everything, if we were to come to a conclusion on Cleveland’s roster, the easy answer would be this:

  • The Cavs have youth and potential at the guard position, despite a few glaring deficiencies
  • On the wing, they have some young role-players, but not elite potential
  • Drummond, Love, and Nance bring star power to the frontcourt, but not much youth

The Cavs have only one first-round draft pick this year. Depending on how the lottery plays out, they will pick anywhere from first overall to sixth. As long as Cleveland doesn’t trade down or out, they will have a shot at a top-tier prospect.

The Guards

Starting at guard, the 2020 class is rolling out a lot of talent at this position. LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes, and Tyrese Haliburton lead the way. Though they all bring different aspects to the table, they do have some similar qualities between them. All are considered brilliant playmakers and have great size for a point. Those two traits immediately make these three prospects interesting for Cleveland. The downsides to a Garland-Sexton backcourt are their lack of size and playmaking.

Ball is likely the most divisive prospect in this draft. A lot of that unfairly stems from his last name. His intrusive father, LaVar Ball, is an issue, but it’s overblown. His older brother, Lonzo, has shown a lot of maturity since transitioning to the NBA, and has detached himself a bit from his father. Another interesting point to take from LaMelo’s older brother’s NBA career is his defense; Lonzo Ball has been a terrific defender in the NBA, despite not having that reputation coming out of college.

During his brief international pro career, LaMelo Ball has been a poor defender, often disengaged and lacking effort. However, I believe in the structure that an NBA team provides, he could change dramatically for the better. Also, similar to Lonzo, LaMelo is an excellent passer. LaMelo is the greatest playmaker in this draft, and I don’t believe that’s up for debate. The 18-year-old ranked second in the Australian NBL with 6.8 assists per game, and had an outstanding assist-turnover ratio of 2.70.  He brings the whole package with him. Watching his passing highlights have been one of the more enjoyable moments of my quarantine.

The real concern lies in Ball’s scoring ability, another similarity shared between the brothers. LaMelo has struggled to score with efficiency, and his jump shot has some major red flags. His shot selection has been nothing short of horrendous. That’s another issue that will likely subside to an extent in the NBA with legit talent beside him, but still is a concern.

Moving onto Hayes, there’s a lot to like with the French point guard. First off, he’s another great passer, though not quite on LaMelo’s level. In EuroCup and German BBL play, the 18-year-old averaged 5.4 assists, with an assist-turnover ratio of 1.68.  He’s very creative off the dribble, making up for his average athleticism, with a deep bag of moves, including a nasty stepback. He’s a lefty and a little too left-hand dominant, but that’s not a deal-breaker for me. His right hand will improve with time and increased confidence.

A hard-worker, Killian’s rapid ascension in all areas of his game has been incredibly encouraging. He shows great effort and intelligence on defense. His 3-point shot, once considered a weakness, is now showing promise. There’s little to not like about Hayes. (Spoiler: he’s my No. 1 prospect in this draft). His handle and awareness could use some improvement, as he sometimes struggled with aggressive defense at the European level, but let me know when you see NBA teams running a full-court press in the first quarter of games.

It’s not crazy to think that Hayes might have one of the highest upsides in this draft, while also being one of the safer picks. He has the tools and IQ, which is half of the battle. He has proven before to have the commitment and mindset necessary to keep on rising. That’s all you need.

Haliburton rounds out the trio of guards, but don’t think he’s any less interesting than the first two. The Iowa State sophomore is a big combo guard, who can play either the 1 or 2 with ease. He has a little bit of a funky shot, but he knocks down jumpers at a very high clip, and he has some serious range on it. His pull-up game needs work, but this season, Haliburton ranked at the 91st percentile on spot-up situations for points per possession and at the 82nd percentile on catch-and-shoot attempts in the half-court.

While Ball has the title of greatest playmaker in this draft, I’d say that Haliburton is the smartest. He almost has that Nikola Jokic level of feel for where his teammates are, seemingly without even looking. A lack of athleticism and an elite handle will limit him, but he won’t be in the NBA to score. Haliburton is the very definition of a floor general. When his team has a five-point lead at crunch time and just needs to hold onto it, that’s when his calming presence will be felt.

The analytical crowd loves Haliburton. It’s really simple. The guy is good at basketball. He makes the right plays. He won’t force shots. Haliburton will probably never be an all-star, and that’s okay. He doesn’t need to be.

The Wings

Shifting our focus to the wings, this is where things get a little confusing. The top tier consists of another trio: Anthony Edwards, Isaac Okoro, and Deni Avdija. Each is vastly different from the other, unlike the guards. In a league that is dominated by wings, nailing these picks is becoming more and more critical.

Depending on who you talk to, Edwards could be considered a guard, but in my eyes, he’s a wing. He boasts probably the best and most inaccurate nickname for a player in this draft, Antman, which is very deceiving. The first thing that everyone notices is his overwhelming physical tools and capabilities. He’s big, strong, and fast. It doesn’t get better than that.

Nobody has ever questioned Edwards’ physical attributes and potential, especially as a scorer. As a freshman this season with Georgia, he ranked third in the SEC with 19.1 points per game, while making a modest 40.2 percent of his shots. From that point on, however, it gets murky. Sometimes, watching him is like watching two completely different players. At times, he’ll completely take over games. He’ll drive into the paint with ease and throw it down with authority. He’ll split two defenders by whipping a bounce pass to a wide-open teammate. He’ll knock down multiple threes in a row with confidence.

Unfortunately, that is only half of the story. Often Edwards will float around on offense or ball-watch on defense. He’ll fail to box-out and give up an easy offensive board. He’ll pull-up on multiple contested threes in a row and brick them all.

When engaged, Edwards is a force to be reckoned with. We don’t see that all the time, though. At this stage, his basketball IQ, effort level, and awareness are certainly lacking. There’s still some considerable progress for him to show before we can be sure he’ll be an effective NBA player, but the Georgia freshman has as strong of a foundation to build upon as anybody in this class.

Also hailing from the SEC, Okoro is the next standout wing from this class. Another multi-positional guy, the Auburn freshman has the skills, versatility, athleticism, and body to play and guard positions 2 through 4.

Widely proclaimed as the best defender in the class and an All-SEC Defense selection, Okoro has a lot of things going for him, but two stick out. First, his motor never stops. He’s a relentless disruptor. Secondly, the Auburn freshman has that rare combination of lower body strength to hold his own with bigs in the post, and the lateral quickness, along with the foot speed, to hang with smaller guards on the perimeter.

On a senior-dominated Auburn team, Okoro received big minutes, but it wasn’t just because of his defensive abilities. He fit into their offense like a glove. Between his cutting, positional awareness, and hustle, he proved to be invaluable on both ends.

When given the chance, he displayed the ability to get to the rim and convert on tough finishes or kick the ball out to open teammates. The only obvious downside to Okoro at this point is his jump shot; shooting just 28.6 percent from three and 67.2 percent from the free-throw line, it definitely needs work. I’m willing to count on Okoro putting in that work, though.

Deni Avdija is the last wing in the top tier, and here’s where it gets difficult. Nobody is really certain who Deni is. The 19-year-old Israeli has drawn NBA comparisons to Luka Doncic, Dario Saric, Danilo Gallinari, and Nicolas Batum. The only real similarity between them? They are all from Europe. Beyond that, it’s not so obvious. One draft expert will tell you that he’s the safest pick of the draft, while the next will tell you that he’s a project. Why is there so much disparity and confusion? There’s a few reasons why.

Avdija plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv, a European powerhouse. When his team played in the Euroleague (the second best basketball league in the world), his stats were very lackluster and he received relatively few minutes (14.3 per game). However, in the IBSL, Israel’s top league with a lower level of competition than EuroLeague, Avdija has put up solid numbers and received more minutes (27.1 per game). To date in the IBSL, he is averaging 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game, with nice shooting splits (.550/.387/.581).

It’s common for youngsters to be quiet in the Euroleague. Luka Doncic took the league by storm, but is now considered to be a transcendent talent. The two can’t compare to each other. It’s unfair to Deni.

What we do know is, he is accepting of his role. Rarely will Avdija have that tunnel vision that rookies often have coming into the league. In a low-usage role, he’ll be fine, and if you give him the ball, he’ll surprise you. He couldn’t always showcase it often in his team’s system, but he has the makings of a potential point-forward.

Labeling Avdija as a 3-and-D wing is a little gutsy at this point. He is inconsistent and streaky in both areas, but that’s not to say that he can’t grow into it. The youngster has flashed real ability with his jump shot and defense. Has he shown enough to back his potential? It’s hard to say, but theoretically, Avdija offers everything you could want from a wing in today’s league.

The Bigs

The days where teams build around big men are long gone, but possessing a center that can fill in for a team’s weaknesses and embrace its strengths goes a long way. Is one still worth a high pick in the draft? There may not be a simple answer, given how easy it has become to acquire above-average bigs in the NBA.

James Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu headline this year’s class. While Wiseman has long been heralded as the cream of the crop, Okongwu soared up to that conversation after a spectacular season at USC.

Starting with Wiseman, he’s had quite the unconventional freshman season. In only three college games, he shot an insane 80 percent from 2-point range before being controversially suspended, and ultimately deciding to leave Memphis. Wiseman’s suspension had much less to do with his morality than the NCAA’s failed system.

In such an incredibly small sample size against weak competition, it’s hard to take any real stock into his performance at Memphis. This makes his evaluation process more difficult, but multiple things with Wiseman are already established:

  • He has an NBA-ready body.
  • He’ll be rim-running and throwing down alley-oops from day one.
  • His potential as a rim-protector is high, but questions remain about his defensive versatility.
  • He won’t be a high-level playmaker.

One part of Wiseman’s game remains up in the air — his jump shot. He teased flashes of it in high school. He shot 50 percent from three on 16 attempts in AAU ball in 2019; however, at Memphis, he solely played under the basket. On 41 free-throw attempts in AAU, he shot a poor 58.5 percent, compared to 70.4 percent on 27 attempts in college. It’s tough to make anything out of that info. With such little tape available of the youngster against legit talent, NBA teams will be basically flying blind.

A lot of Wiseman’s potential in the NBA will boil down to his ability to shoot from beyond the perimeter. A five that can stretch the floor and protect the rim is supremely valuable. If he doesn’t get that shot down, dare I say, he might cap out at slightly above-average.

Lack of evidence isn’t an issue with Okongwu. He put in the work all season, dominating the paint on both sides of the floor. The USC freshman averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 boards, and 2.7 blocks per game, and led the PAC-12 Conference with a true-shooting percentage of 64.5. He also ranked among the top 20 in the nation for block percentage (9.8), player efficiency rating (31.2), and plus-minus (11.6).  

Big O makes the hustle plays and does the dirty work down low, but that’s not the only area he excels. An elite rim-protector in college, he also displayed the ability to switch onto guards effectively.  In the NBA, defense will be his calling card. He checks every box. Okongwu brings versatility, grit, physical tools, hustle, and IQ. Offensively, he won’t be backing down guys in the post too often, although he has that ability. Count on him to be a lob/dump-off threat in his early NBA days.

With Onyeka, you know what you’re getting. The same can’t be said for Wiseman. Give both of them an average 3-point shot and their value skyrockets. If that never happens, though, Okongwu is the more seamless fit in the modern NBA. Mobility and versatility are more important than ever for bigs, and Okongwu has the edge in both categories.

What Does This Mean for Cleveland?

Now we know the top prospects, but what does any of this mean for the Cavaliers? There are multiple levels to that question. If you look at who’s the best choice at each position, you’ll get different answers, depending on who you talk to. If you asked me, I’d take Killian Hayes from the guards, Isaac Okoro from the wings, and Onyeka Okongwu from the bigs.

It’s impossible to know what Cavs GM Koby Altman is considering in this draft, but if he prefers massive potential over positional need, then LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards make sense. Going boom-or-bust is risky, though. Tyrese Haliburton and Okongwu present high floors, while maybe not offering that same upside.

If we look closer, there are hints to what the front office may be figuring. Jordan Bell was recently signed to a 2-year deal. Andre Drummond is interested in a long-term extension to stay in Cleveland. Kevin Love is still here. Larry Nance Jr isn’t leaving anytime soon. The Cavaliers are still interested in bringing Tristan Thompson back. Reading between the lines here, it’s evident that Cleveland isn’t putting an emphasis on creating room in the rotation for a young big man. It makes sense, too. The Cavs already have talent in the frontcourt. Why get rid of it, when you can prioritize a different position?

Other signs point to the team possibly avoiding taking another guard in this draft. The three most significant pieces in Cleveland’s rebuild are all guards (Garland, Sexton, Porter Jr). Adding another creates a logjam. Per his agent, the Cavs aren’t interviewing Hayes, and likely won’t draft a guard. If there’s truth behind this, Haliburton is likely out of the picture as well.

Ball and Edwards may be talented enough to override that stipulation, but Okoro, Deni Avdija, or even Devin Vassell, the polished 3-and-D wing out of Florida State, are looking like the most realistic targets here. Though they are not the most talented of the bunch, these true wings are probably the best fit for the Cavs at a position of need. They will play their role, hustle on both ends of the floor, and make the right decisions. The perfect complementary players.

Although COVID-19 has made practically everything more difficult than it used to be, it definitely hurt the draft process as a whole for the NBA. Such limited resources, compounded by a class where no individual prospects stick out from the crowd, really puts pressure on the teams picking at the top this year. Cleveland will be up there again. Analysts were quick to critique the Cavs’ selection of Darius Garland in the lottery last year, and little happened to prove them wrong. The heat is on now. Altman has a mountainous task in front of him and he has to get it right — no pressure, though.

Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements:  Stats used in our scouting reports come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com.  Other outside sources are noted with links to the source. 

About Brayden Todd 1 Article
Brayden is a contributing writer at Hoops Prospects. He is also planning to major in Computer Science at Huntington University. He has previously contributed to The Lead Sports Media. For more nerdy Cavs and draft related content, follow him on Twitter @BraydenBallin.