Starting with this article, Hiroki Witt will be ranking each of the Cleveland Cavaliers First Round Draft Picks since 1990. This series will include Cavs that came over on a draft night trade (i.e. Tyler Zeller). How they are ranked is based on the impact they had while on the Cavs roster. Sorry, I won’t be taking Trajan Langdon’s CSKA career into account when ranking. Coming in dead last is big man DeSagana Diop.
Ok, it’s the NBA offseason and not much is going on, so why not look back at some Cleveland Cavaliers draft picks since 1990? Why 1990? Well, the Cavs have made/acquired 23 selections since 1990; if you have issues with it not being a nice, round number well…
Anyway, let’s start. And since we’re starting out at the bottom, we’re rolling with the least successful Cleveland Cavaliers draft pick since 1990. Now the Cavs have had a lot of disappointing picks over the past 25 years; some had their careers derailed by injury, while others had a lot of trouble adjusting to the NBA game. But none had the combination of hype and complete lack of production that DeSagana Diop had. Looking back on his less-than-stellar career, it is more than a bit surprising that he originally was drawing comparisons to the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.
No, really. Check out this article Skip Bayless wrote back in 2001.
Bayless wasn’t the only person high on Diop, either. After leading Oak Hill Academy to the No. 1 ranking in the nation, Diop became a highly regarded talent due to his big frame, rebounding and blocking skills and aforementioned upside. He looked like he could be dominant.
And then the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him. What went wrong?
Diop was no doubt overhyped; his complete and utter lack of an offensive game was exposed the moment he got to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Diop never had a season with the Cavs where he shot better than 41 percent from the field and never had a season in his career where he shot over 60 percent from the free throw line. He found success offensively at Oak Hill simply because he was so much bigger than the competition. He had no range, but even right underneath the basket he struggled to get the ball in the hoop. But I also feel as though part of his career struggle was out of his control.
A common lament I have when people brand certain players that don’t perform up to expectations as a “bust” is that they don’t often pay attention to what happened between point A and point B that caused that player to become a bust. Oftentimes players get drafted into situations where they never play, and thus never have a chance to really improve and never achieve their potential. With the Cleveland Cavaliers, he started out as the fourth center on the roster behind lottery draft picks Michael Doleac and Chris Mihm, as well as Cavaliers legend Zydrunas Ilgauskas. As a result, he rarely played his rookie year and never really gained any traction or had any time to improve. His sophomore year Doleac was gone, which opened up Diop to get a little more playing time – he played 80 games that year, but only averaged 11.8 MPG. Again, though, if the guy isn’t playing extended minutes, how is he supposed to put up numbers of a guy that does?
I haven’t been able to dig up much insight on if there was any other reason the Cleveland Cavaliers refused to give Diop extended minutes – he seemed like a very coachable player that wouldn’t get himself in the doghouse too often. It wasn’t like the Cavs were a contending team that couldn’t afford to give up a few wins to “break-in” a talented player, but I really think this derailed Diop’s early career. If he had been given more of an opportunity perhaps we could have seen production more in line of what he did with Dallas, where he still wasn’t any good offensively, but acted like a defensive anchor and a very good bench compliment to Erick Dampier.
Speaking of which, it’s good to know that Diop was able to salvage his career somewhat in Dallas and become the spark he was for them. But since I am judging purely on his impact while he was with the Cavaliers, he was putrid. Not only did he not live up to his lofty expectations, he failed to make an impact completely. Diop was a terrible combination of a draft pick that was both highly hyped and did nothing for the team he was drafted by. He couldn’t score and never made the defensive impact he was supposed to. That lands Diop the last spot on the Cleveland Cavaliers draft list.