Nobody wanted the first overall pick. That was the story in the days and weeks heading into the NBA draft lottery, which took place Tuesday night. In a year bereft of that singular, franchise-altering talent, nabbing the top pick was supposed to be as much a curse as a gift.
Not for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the rest of the 13 non-playoff teams playing lotto, seeing NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver pull their logo out of that envelope last may have been a mixed blessing. The prize is most likely Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel, who is expected to miss at least the first two months of next season after tearing his ACL. Even fully healthy, Noel is considered a project. As such, sleepers like Ben McLemore, Trey Burke and Otto Porter saw their names floated as possible No. 1’s, depending on which team landed the pick.
That dilemma does not exist for the Cavs, however. Unlike some of their competition (if it can be called that) for the No. 1 pick, such as the Magic and Bobcats, all of the Cavs’ eggs are not in this one basket. The Cavs have four out of the first 33 picks in what is considered a weak but wide-open draft class. Orlando has two picks in the entire draft. Charlotte has just one. The Washington Wizards, who were a surprise contender for the top pick when they failed to go at their presumptive eighth spot, have three picks but only one first-rounder.
That presents Cleveland with a luxury none of the other top contenders for the No. 1 pick would have enjoyed. They can afford to whiff on Noel, to an extent, and still hit for value with their second pick, slated to be No. 19. The last five 19th overall picks are encouraging: Andrew Nicholson, Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Jeff Teague and J.J. Hickson. And most of those drafts, like this one, were considered thin on talent.
(Before Hickson there was 2007’s 19th overall pick, Javaris Crittenton, whom scouts appear to have accurately portrayed as a good shooter. Hey, not every No. 19 pick can be a home run.)
The Cavs’ other two picks — the first and third selections of the second round — are probably more cosmetic than anything. This is not the NFL, after all. Cavs general manager Chris Grant likely has no illusions about finding anything other than D-League fodder down there. Still, 31st and 33rd are not 50th. Several intriguing prospects, like Glen Rice Jr., Isaiah Canaan and C.J. Leslie, are projected to be available then. There could be a longtime rotational role player to be found in one of those picks.
Certainly, the Magic’s representative would not have stormed off the stage in a huff if he had heard his team’s name called last on Tuesday. Even a dumb sportswriter knows No. 1 is better than No. 2. But there would have been great trepidation for the Magic, whoever they drafted.
Some trepidation has to exist for the Cavs, too. The uncertainty of any draft, especially this one, hardly lends itself to an abundance of confidence. This draft was always going to be a bit fun for Grant and his cronies, though. Four picks in a muddled field of players makes for some interesting options, no matter where the slots fall.
Now, one of those picks just happens to be first. In a year when nobody supposedly wanted the top pick, the Cavs will take it without complaint.