Not too long ago if you told me that the Cleveland Cavaliers would be in the position to draft Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, I would have said there was no way. The freshman sensation was, at a time, the consensus No. 1 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. With shot blocking ability, an improving offensive game and a great haircut, Noel was seen as the kind of player you could make a long-term staple of your franchise.
And just picture a Cavaliers squad with Noel. Long term, a pick for Noel meant that a young core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Noel had the Cavaliers on the fast track to contention. It’s rare you see three young players of that caliber on one team. Who was the last team to get three talented players like that you ask? The Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden overall had more talent than the potential Cleveland “Big Three” mentioned above. The problem was all three of those players need the ball a lot in order to succeed. Thus, it was a good idea to send Harden on his way to Houston and make the Thunder a two man wrecking crew.
But with the Irving, Waiters and Noel trio, you don’t have those issues. Sure Waiters and Irving both are at their best with the ball, but Noel is not that kind of player.
Also, picture a starting lineup of Irving, Waiters, someone not named Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson and Noel in three years or so. That’s a lineup, in theory, that could be a real threat in the East.
But here’s the Catch-22: Noel, as you may know, suffered a gruesome ACL tear against the Florida Gators in early February. He had his surgery not too long ago and, in this day and age, an ACL injury isn’t the end of the world in the sport of basketball. Athletes like Adrian Petersson have come back and been better than ever. And in the NBA, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose appears ready to come back soon from his own ACL injury.
And this is where it gets interesting: After a quick surge, the Cavaliers are back in bottom of the league with a record of 22-48. At this moment, the Wine and Gold have a 15.6 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft – with the Orlando Magic (19.9 percent) and Charlotte Bobcats (25 percent) having better odds. So, after a long stretch of time, it appears the Cavaliers are right back in the thick of it when it comes to selecting at the top of the draft. And let’s say they do end up at that pick and have a chance to take Noel – they have to do it right?
Wrong. And here’s why.
First off, let me say that I am operating under the assumption that Marresse Speights will not be a Cavalier next year. And I am indeed interested in drafting a young big man. In a way, this makes this choice even easier since I see a lot of value in this draft.
Let us remember that Anderson Varejao will be making his return next season. The Brazilian big man does have a history of injuries, but when on the court, few are better. He’s a double-double machine who only gets better each season, and a frontcourt of Varejao and Thompson could be insanely productive. With Tyler Zeller also likely coming back, that means you already have three big men committed. Let them grow and let’s truly find out what we have there.
Also, there are prospects in this draft – namely Otto Porter from Georgetown, Ben McLemore from Kansas and Victor Oladipo from Indiana that strike me as good fits on this Cavaliers team. Porter would fill a huge need at small forward, McLemore could pair with Waiters to form a dangerous combination, while Waiters’ and Oladipo’s contrasting styles make them a good fit to share minutes. And in all likelihood, the Cavaliers will be able to pick when one of those players are available.
And lastly, there are some big men out there available for picking later in the draft – especially if the Los Angeles Lakers make the playoffs and give up their first round draft pick to the Wine and Gold. Kansas’s Jeff Withey would provide toughness and shot blocking that this franchise currently does not have. Akron’s Zeke Marshall provides the same and likely will be available come the Cavaliers second round pick. And Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk provides the same and likely would be available when the Cavaliers select for the second time in the first round.
Here is my point: Taking Noel could work out phenomenally and he could develop into a star. He certainty is more likely to than any other frontcourt prospect that I mentioned. But why draft him, a player who may miss part of next year, when there is value later down the board?
At the first pick, I take Porter or Oladipo, taking a veteran college player who also has room to grow. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs (and I think they will), I zone in on Olynyk and even dangle a second rounder in order to nab him. Withey becomes the safety plan, with Marshall being the final option in round two.
Anyway you look at it, it looks as if the Cavaliers will be able to add at least one talented rookie to a roster that already has good young talent. But for my last dollar, I pass on the player many thought of (and still do) as the No. 1 prospect. Take a look at other guys and get big men later. Remember that Varejao is on his way back and that there is still room for Tyler Zeller to grow.
So, if I’m the Cavaliers, I’m saying no to Noel.