The Cleveland Cavaliers head into this week’s NBA Draft with the No. 49 pick, courtesy of a pick swap with the Golden State Warriors. Interestingly enough, last year they traded for the No. 49 pick to select big man Isaiah Mobley, so they could pick at 49 two years in a row.
The Cavs are in rumors to trade up into the first round, so it’s not guaranteed that they will stay at 49. If they do, however, what’s the historical precedent for the pick? Nikola Jokic is a top-30 player all time (at least) and was taken with the 41st pick. Have there been any other stars that have fallen to pick No. 49?
Who is the best player drafted with the 49th pick?
There are no Nikola Jokic-level superstars waiting in the history of the 49th pick; in fact, his win share total just from this past season (14.9) exceeds the career win shares of all but five players taken 49th. It’s not a long list.
The best player to go 49th has to be Eddie Johnson, drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 1977. The 6’2″ shooting guard had a 10-year career, most of it with the Hawks, although he actually played 32 games in Cleveland at the tail end of his career.
Johnson was a high-volume scoring guard, six times in 10 seasons averaging more than 16 points per game. He made two All-Star Games early in his career, with his best overall season probably coming in 1980-81, when he averaged a career-best 19.1 points, 5.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Other notable names at pick No. 49
A name that will be very familiar to Cleveland Cavaliers fans is James Jones, who was the 49th pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He started his career with the Indiana Pacers but first made a name for himself on the Phoenix Suns as a rotation player during the height of the “7 Seconds or Less” era of Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni basketball.
Jones then moved on to the Miami Heat and became a role player alongside two title-winning teams with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, refining his 3-point shot into a true weapon. He would follow James to the Cavaliers and win another title, entering the history books as one of a select few players to make seven consecutive NBA Finals. Jones is now the general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
Leon Powe is another role player whose name is familiar to fans of title teams, as he played a small role on the Boston Celtics in 2008 en route to a title (and interestingly played 34 games in Cleveland after that!). Kyle O’Quinn made it into the NBA out of Norfolk State and played for six seasons in the league.
Andray Blatche had a couple of prolific seasons with the Washington Wizards, one of the early players to try and pair 3-point shooting (he wasn’t very accurate) and shot-blocking at the center position. Jeff Cook played eight seasons in the NBA in the 1980s, including (you guessed it) with the Cavaliers, suiting up for 129 games for the Cavs across three seasons.
Who is the best current player?
It’s not a particularly enticing list of active players selected 49th overall. Isaiah Joe likely leads the way, a sharpshooting wing who looks like a rotation player for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range last season and averaged a career-best 9.5 points per game.
Vlatko Čančar just won a ring as an end-of-bench player on the Denver Nuggets, but the 6’8″ big has shown some pop and could be in line for a larger role, either with the Nuggets or another team in the near future.
Chimezie Metu is a small-ball center who has been in and out of the rotation for the Sacramento Kings and will be even money to make a roster next season. It’s similar for Quinndary Weatherspoon, who spent some time in the NBA but last year played in the Chinese Basketball Association and may not get a training camp invite next year.
Finally, of course, Isaiah Mobley looks like he will earn a full roster spot soon with the Cavaliers and could become a full-time rotation player as the backup to his brother Evan Mobley.
Could this be the year a true star is taken 49th overall in the NBA Draft? Maybe, but probably not. More likely, the Cavs are just hoping they get someone who can actually play; 37 times in 71 years the player taken 49th has never played a single NBA game. If he can play, the Cavs will be in good shape!