NBA Draft 2021: When the Cleveland Cavaliers pick in the draft

The Cleveland Cavaliers enter the 2021 offseason in need of a change. They have straddled the line between rebuilding and retaining useful veteran pieces, and the result has been few wins but a slow build of a new asset base of picks and prospects. The 2021 NBA Draft is their chance to change that.

The last three seasons have seen the Cavaliers add Top 10 players in Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro, and while all have varying levels of upside and production, none are on a superstar trajectory. The 2021 NBA Draft is strong at the top, and this Thursday night the Cavaliers will have a chance to draft that difference maker.

What pick do the Cleveland Cavaliers have in the 2021 NBA Draft?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have the No. 3 pick in the draft, a strong result and a relief coming out of the draft lottery. It is the highest they have selected since before LeBron James returned to the team, and in fact the first time they have selected third since 1972.

Most draft analysts agree on a top tier of prospects. Some draw that line with as many as six elite-level prospects, but others make that group tighter. All generally agree that there are at least three top tier players available, giving the Cavaliers a key position in the draft from which they can add a true blue-chip prospect.

Cade Cunningham out of Oklahoma State is the strong favorite to go first overall to the Detroit Pistons, and although he would be an exceptional fit on the Cavaliers as a big wing who can shoot and pass, the cost to move up two spots would be prohibitive. The Houston Rockets sit at the second pick, and will likely pick either G League guard Jalen Green or USC big man Evan Mobley.

That leaves the other to the Cavaliers, which is a great place to be in. Both Green and Mobley project as longtime starters with strong All-Star upside. The best version of Green scores 30 points per game; the best version of Mobley anchors a Top 5 defense and put up 22 and 12 himself. Either one will be an excellent addition and a foundational building block for the franchise.

Why don’t the Cleveland Cavaliers have a 2nd rounder?

Every team starts out with both a first round pick and a second round pick, but the Cavaliers sent theirs packing years ago. In the midst of the run of contention with LeBron James, the Cavs sent an aging and ineffective Mo Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and two second round picks to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

One of those second round picks was this year’s selection, landing at 35th overall. The Cavaliers also sent next year’s pick to the Hawks as well. Later the Hawks used both picks in a deal to trade up for De’Andre Hunter in the 2019 NBA Draft, so it will be the New Orleans Pelicans selecting in the Cavs’ place at pick No. 35.

It has been reported by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (subscription required) that the Cavaliers are aggressively working the phones, weighing the value of a few of their current players and trying to get another lottery pick in the top 10.

Acquiring that second lottery pick would mean another high-end prospect to add to this core. That could be a wing, such as Franz Wagner or Josh Giddey, or they could surprise and take a backcourt player at No. 3 because they like a big or large forward available later in the lottery. Perhaps they are trying to take a home run swing at a star trade candidate and are assembling a package to offer.

Rebuilding teams need to stock up on draft capital in order to build a young core with enough options to one day fill out a contending roster. Draft picks are risky propositions even high in the draft, and the more you have the better. Unfortunately the Cavaliers only have one bite at the apple this year.

It’s a good bite, though, the third pick in what might be a three or four player draft. They are where they want to be, finally taking that star-level player to build around. If they can move a player or a future pick in order to jump back into the draft they could further add to the young core they are assembling. Either way, a lot is riding on the 2021 NBA Draft for the Cleveland Cavaliers.