During the LeBron James era, the Cleveland Cavaliers had a total of eight picks in the seven-year span, as he left the team with zero draft picks in 2010 because of trades that were made in an attempt to improve the team. Instead, Cleveland settled on burnt-out stars, while all the high-profile stars swarmed to teams with flashy appeal. After picking James, here is the order and year each player joined the Wine and Gold via draft:
2003 – Round 2, Pick No. 31: Jason Kapono
2004 – Round 1, Pick No. 10: Luke Jackson
2006 – Round 1, Pick No. 25: Shannon Brown
2006 – Round 2, Pick No. 42: Daniel Gibson
2006 – Round 2, Pick No. 55: Ejike Ugboaja
2008 – Round 1, Pick No. 19: J.J. Hickson
2009 – Round 1, Pick No. 30: Christian Eyenga
2009 – Round 2, Pick No. 46: Danny Green
In the three drafts during the post-LeBron era, Cleveland has had 12 picks (to start off with) in that short span, and six of those players look to be future pieces for this team heading out of the rebuilding process. Kyrie Irving, Thompson, Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev are all hopeful future locks for the Wine and Gold to lead this team back to the playoffs. This season will determine if general manager Chris Grant wasted his last three drafts ending up with more questions than they started with after LeBron left them in the dark.
In this post, we will look at each of the 2011-13 draft pick’s progress, where they stand in future with this team and their draft grade up to this point.
2011 – Round 1, Pick No. 1: Kyrie Irving
Obviously this is the most valuable pick in eight years for the Cavaliers. Kyrie is a top-level NBA talent, and should be in the conversation for top five point guards after earning All-Star status in just his second season. Irving continued on his clutch tear in his sophomore season, most memorably hitting a three in the eye of Alan Anderson for the game winner. He broke Brandon Knight’s ankles in the Rookie-Sophomore game and won the three-point contest during All-Star weekend before topping it off with his first (of many) All-Star Game appearances. Irving is locked up until the summer of 2016, so all of this talk about Irving wanting to leave needs to be silenced. He’s with us for at least three more seasons, so let’s enjoy a superstar transform so quickly before our eyes. He’s part of this team’s long-time future plans, no doubt about that. When the time comes to make that decision, we can rest easy.
2011 – Round 1, Pick No. 4: Tristan Thompson
Drafting an undersized power forward with their second pick in the rebuilding process was a head scratcher at first, but Thompson is starting to show flashes of genius on the court, at least from an offensive standpoint. General manager Chris Grant made it seem like the Cavs wanted the Texas product for defensive purposes, but as you could tell by how the team played unfocused and lethargic defense last year, he hasn’t become that player yet. With four players capable of playing power forward (Bennett, Anderson Varejao and Earl Clark) on this team, Thompson could very well be trade bait this season as his stock is rising. Beside from being one of the most blocked players in the NBA last season, his double-hand mini skyhook became an efficient way of dealing with taller defenders. If he can continue to make footwork second nature, then we will continue to see him grow on offense. Whether or not he will become the defensive specimen we thought he would is up to Mike Brown this season, but keep in mind that Thompson is still very raw at this stage in his basketball life. I don’t think he will be shipped, and he will stay a Cavalier until they decide on where he stands with Cleveland’s future plans when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2015. There were better options looking forward for the Cavs in this draft, but I think Thompson will work out in Wine and Gold and will be around for years to come. Whether or not going with a big man would have fared better for this team will always be a “what if”.
2011 – Round 2, Pick No. 32: Justin Harper
After selecting Harper out of Richmond, he had his rights traded to the Orlando Magic for two second-round picks in 2013 and 2014 (the 2013 pick was traded for two future second-round picks from the Portland Trail Blazers after the Cavs selected Allen Crabbe). So even after joining the team this season in Las Vegas Summer League play (averaged 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds), the Cavs got a chance to see the player that they flipped for essentially three future second-rounders this summer. Great strategy by Chris Grant, so it deserves some praise, but we’re yet to find out what these picks will become.
2011 – Round 2, Pick No. 54: Milan Macvan
Chris Manning wrote about the prospect of Macvan coming over anytime soon, and Mary Schmitt Boyer and him share the same sentiment. It seems as if he is not totally blowing up overseas, but he’s also just not needed on this team at the moment, and possibly will never see the light of day. In 12 Eurocup games with Galatasaray, Micvan averaged 7.7 points and 3.2 rebounds at 22.8 minutes per game. Average numbers that will probably not earn him a spot on an NBA roster. He put up some promising numbers at times, but the competition is without comparison and his fundamentals are just not all there to go up against NBA opponents.
2012 – Round 1, Pick No. 4: Dion Waiters
Ah, Dion. Don’t get me wrong, I like Waiters a lot. I think he’ll be a longtime threat for this team, wherever the Cavaliers put him. The thing is, knowing Mike Brown’s defensive philosophy, if you’re out on the court slacking on defense, you’re going to be yanked out. I could see this happening to Waiters quite a bit to start the season. However, he did put up high numbers, averaging 14.7 points despite shooting 41.2 percent from the field, for a rookie. The Syracuse product has killer instinct, but he just needs to be tamed at times and realize that he’s not coming off the bench and doesn’t have to make use of his playing time by shooting every minute he’s in the game. Like I said earlier last week, I would have preferred Harrison Barnes from the start because the shooting guard complexion could have been fixed with Victor Oladipo this season.
2012 – Round 1, Pick No. 17 (traded with Dallas Mavericks): Tyler Zeller
Trading their three remaining picks to the Mavericks for Zeller may not have seemed worth it at points this season, but Zeller is very capable of being molded into a great role player on this team. I don’t think he should be traded due to the crowding of the frontcourt with the additions of Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and Anthony Bennett this offseason. Averaging 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 26.4 points after being whisked into an unfair situation as the starter for Anderson Varejao after 30 games when Wild Thing went down. He shot 43.8 percent from the field, but before shooting 42.2 percent during the last month of regular season play, Zeller had shot 50 percent the previous two months, as he became more adjusted to the PnR offense. He became a threat from 20 feet out, something that the Cavaliers didn’t have in a big man after Varejao went down. He’ll see a decrease in minutes due to the addition of Bynum and a healthy Varejao, but he’ll be a great asset to have coming off the bench due to being thrown in the fire last season.
2013 – Round 1, Pick No. 1: Anthony Bennett
Since I don’t want to be lazy and put N/A for these last few guys, I did do a previous draft grade of Bennett the week after the Cavaliers selected Bennett. I stand by my decision then, and I hope that he sees proper minutes next season. Here is what I had to say:
Bennett is a nightmare in the paint, as he kept a list of his dunk victims in high school until he hit triple digits. His intensity will bring something to the Cavaliers offense that I think is lacking, especially when Anderson Varejao is out of the lineup. Head coach Mike Brown and general manager Chris Grant both hinted that Bennett will play the four at the pro level, making him compete head-to-head with two-year veteran Tristan Thompson. That’s what makes this pick a bit of a head scratcher, even though I thought before Grant and Brown made these comments that Bennett could exist in the same starting lineup as Thompson. Within reason, I think putting your five best players on the court at the same time is an excellent strategy if there is a great mind leading the huddle, but it seems that Bennett will come off the bench at first.
2013 – Round 1, Pick No. 19: Sergey Karssev
I also graded Karasev the same way. Here is what I had to say then:
If Karasev can come off the bench and be the scorer that he has been during his time being the leading offensive producer on Triumph, then this is a definite possibility. The Cavaliers needed to address this positional need through the draft, and getting a player that was supposed to go anywhere in the 10-15 range as far as picks go, this is a great find for the Cavaliers who were thinking about trading up for possibly the draft’s best international prospect. Plus, even though he’s not competing in the Summer League due to Russian obligations, he’ll be rearing to go by training camp. No holdout from Karasev, which is something I love to see from international prospects.
2013 – Round 2, Pick No. 33: Carrick Felix
Lastly, here is what I had to say about Felix:
I love that the Cavaliers actually addressed a defensive need for this pick (one of the best rebounding bigs in college basketball last season), but I just thought there were better options here. Another shooting guard, Jamaal Franklin, who I thought would have been gone by the first round was still around for Cleveland to snag. Bigs who developed well in college like Mike Muscala and Colton Iverson were still on the board, but I could see why the Cavs would stay away from these guys due to defensive concerns. Buttttt the concern I wanted to see addressed here was backup point guard, so that’s why I’m not too high on this pick despite the defensive energy Felix “The Cat” could bring off the bench. Guys like Erick Green, Pierre Jackson, Ray McCallum and Isaiah Canaan, who could all have been viable backups to Kyrie Irving, would have fit quite nicely here.
Still, with one more player in four less drafts, Grant has put most of his marbles in using the draft to develop a young core that is ready to win in five years since the acquisition. This team is well on their way to completing this task, as the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is within sight for a team that also decided to spend smart in free agency, unlike their past selves. We will see who of the nine players mentioned above will be wearing Wine and Gold when the team is poised for a playoff run.