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College, NBA Draft / Jan 26, 2011 / 1:15 pm

Jared Sullinger, Kyrie Irving: Who can save the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Ohio State's Jared Sullinger

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been feeling the bad karma this season. LeBron James came into their house and destroyed them, Anderson Varejao suffered a season-ending ankle injury during a simple practice drill, and future building block J.J. Hickson has bounced in and out of the starting lineup. Meanwhile, the Cavs are 8-37, losing their 18th game in a row last night in Boston, and their 22nd straight on the road.

Head coach Byron Scott wants to put an up-tempo team on the floor, which means Cleveland may want to blow up the roster moving forward if they want to get close to the playoffs any time soon. What should the Cavs do first? They have plenty of nice trading pieces in Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Hickson and Varejao, and maybe even rookie Manny Harris with the way he’s played lately.

But what if trades don’t work out? Typically, building a team through free agency would be the next option, but there is one issue: Who wants to come to Cleveland? At this point, Minnesota looks more appealing. Rather than overpaying for a guy like Carmelo Anthony or Tony Parker, why not take the approach that the 2007 Seattle Supersonics took? They let Rashard Lewis walk in free agency, traded away Ray Allen, then landed one of our generation’s finest players in Kevin Durant and a solid starter in Jeff Green in the draft to rebuild their franchise on the fly. Of course the city of Seattle never got to see the results, but that’s not the point.

So after potentially trading away some of their nice bargaining chips for a few more first-round picks — and assuming Cleveland gets somewhere near the No. 1 pick in the Lottery — who could be the new savior of the Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA Draft?

The Joneses

At this point, if all goes as planned, the Cavaliers should get the first pick in the draft. If that is the case, it looks like Baylor freshman Perry Jones could be their best option. At 6-11, few frontcourt players are as skilled as Jones. When he wants to, he can be an unstoppable force. So far this season, he has shown improved consistency, but it will be interesting to see if that continues into February. He has put up decent numbers (13.9 points, 7.1 rebounds per game) but there are concerns about him projecting as more of a face-up power forward.

The other Jones, Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones, has the same issue. Unlike Perry, Terrence has put up great numbers (18.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg) against good competition. The only difference is that Terrence is three inches shorter than Perry. Both have great potential. It will be up to the Cavaliers to see how patient they can be if they draft either of these guys.

The Rivals

Few would have predicted before the collegiate season started that either Harrison Barnes or Kyrie Irving would be risky options in this year’s NBA Draft. With Barnes (North Carolina) having started his college career slowly, and Irving (Duke) out for a majority of the year with a foot injury, both of these freshmen have major question marks.

Barnes (11.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is the more confusing story, considering he looked like Grant Hill 2.0 coming out of high school but now struggles often to score in double-digits (37% FG) for a talented Tar Heels team. Should he leave for the NBA this year, he could either fill the void at small forward for the Cavaliers, or he could put them through another year of misery. Irving, a point guard, is less of a risk because we saw what he was capable of before he got hurt. He looked like a combination of Chris Paul and Deron Williams for moments, but would he have played like that all season? Now that he is missing all of the (so-called) competition in the ACC and it is uncertain whether he will return for the postseason, Irving would be a risky option at the first pick.

The International Option

There is no consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. In fact, none of these guys are truly worthy of being picked first. This year’s draft is eerily similar to 2006, when Andrea Bargnani was picked first mostly due to the lack of hype surrounding NCAA players and the new age limit. In Enes Kanter, Donatas Motiejunas, Jonas Valanciunas or Jan Vesely, the Cavaliers could go in a new direction.

Kanter is a big-bodied powerhouse post player, Motiejunas is an prototypical inside-outside scoring European big man, Valanciunas is a high-upside project with size and athleticism, and Vesely is a highlight reel waiting to happen. All of them have potential to be impact players, but all of them have some maturing to do. Physically, they could all afford to put on some muscle. The international option may be intriguing to Cleveland because it would be a change of pace. Imagine if they had two first-round picks and could put together a duo of Kyrie Irving and Jan Vesely. Who wouldn’t want to watch that team?

The One-Man Bands

One thing a rebuilding franchise needs is a leader. The Oklahoma City Thunder have had success not only because they have talented players, but because Durant is an excellent leader who sets a good example for the rest of the team.

When you take a look at this year’s NCAA field, you’ll see Kemba Walker (UConn) and Jimmer Fredette (BYU) leading the nation in scoring. You will also see that both are leading respective Top-10 teams. While both have major concerns as to how their games will translate to the league, both possess the kind of leadership that every NBA franchise covets. Sure, we can question whether Walker (24.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.1 spg) can be as effective when he does not have 30 shots per game or whether Fredette’s (26.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.3 spg) lack of size and athleticism will prevent him from guarding more athletic NBA guards — but the idea is that both of these guys could be key pieces in the Cavaliers rebuilding face, not necessarily the marquee player.

The Hometown Hero

Some say the easy pick would be Jared Sullinger, but in this case, it’s not so simple. On one hand, the Ohio State freshman and Columbus, Ohio, native is the best player on the No. 1 college team in the country with an NBA body (6-9, 280 lbs.) and skill set (17.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg), and he’s instant marketing/ticket money for the Cavs with his local ties. On the other hand, the Cavs have been down this road before, and nobody seems to like how the LeBron situation turned out.

And according to some scouts, Sullinger isn’t a surefire superstar. He is considered a bit short for a power forward, and since he’s not an elite athlete, his game suggests something closer to Zach Randolph than the Blake Griffin prototype every NBA team will want at the four from here on out. But then Z-Bo has been a 20-and-10 producer for years, so that’s not the worst comparison.

The Cavs are tied for last place in the League in field-goal percentage, they’re fourth from the bottom in scoring, and fifth from the bottom in rebounding differential. Sullinger can come in and immediately raise each of those rankings. As much as a 19-year-old freshman can be, Sullinger looks like the safest pick.

Who would you target in the 2011 NBA Draft if you were running the Cavaliers?

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  • beiber newz

    i think its getting harder and harder to know who will do well in the nba.

  • Young Gunner

    Jared Sullinger better pray to almighty BASED GOD he doesnt get drafted by Cleveland. This is what happens when you dont draft well and your owner turns out to be a tool

  • http://dimemag.com/2011/01/jared-sullinger-kyrie-irving-who-can-save-the-cleveland-cavaliers/ MIke

    It’s funny how every year, we talk about what guy the worst team is gonna pich but they don’t end up getting the 1st pick

  • Chaos

    A lot of those guys need to stay in college. Irving needs to prove against better comp in the ACC that he can ball and with the glut of pgs in the L right now both young and old (rose, rondo, williams, cp3, curry, felton, evans, holiday, collison, parker, wall, nelson) its kinda hard to assess what he is gonna be, not to mention fredette and walker coming out this year. Sullinger needs to drop 20 to 30 lbs because while he is good, he will need to become quicker and that could come with weight loss.

  • http://dimemag.com/2011/01/jared-sullinger-kyrie-irving-who-can-save-the-cleveland-cavaliers/ MIke

    *Meant 2 say pick

  • LMNOP

    They gotta trade everyone for draft picks and young players then spend the next 5 years building a coherant team like the thunder have. there might not be anyone like durant this year, but they can watch a solid group of youngsters develop next year while they rack up the losses and hope next year is better.
    no one is going there in free agency because its a shithole, and its not like they have any fans left who might be alienated by the losses. so they gotta suck for a few years, be patient and slowly build a good team.

  • First & Foremost

    Hire Isaih Thomas…

  • Maynard

    Irving isn’t really a long-term risk, or any sort of risk. I don’t think he needs to prove himself against better competition either, he dominated against Michigan State, K-State and Marquette.

    Except for Perry Jones, I don’t think anybody else mentioned up there would go No. 1. I’ve heard Derrick Williams’ name too, but he wouldn’t go over Jones.

  • http://www.curtpalme.com/forum/files/you_re_a_homo_767.jpg JAY

    @Chaos: “Sullinger needs to drop 20 to 30 lbs because while he is good, he will need to become quicker and that could come with weight loss.”

    I STRONGLY disagree. I really can’t disagree more. Lol. His game isn’t quickness. He’s never been the guy who will out-quick someone. He relies on his size and strength inside. He wears his defender down throughout the game. At 6’9″ 280lbs, he already has a big bonified NBA body. If he loses 20-30 lbs, he ends up being 6’9″ 250, which is average for an NBA PF, and you take away his advantage. It’s not like he’s an out of shape, lazy player. From what I hear and read, he’s a gym rat. IMO, his weight is not an issue and should try to lose too much. Maybe 5lbs to tone down.

    He’s a 6’9″ 280lbs 19yr old who can hit a jumper AND, by all accounts, is completely coachable. <– that kid is going 1st overall.

  • nizzio

    Go for Kemba Walker. His numbers remind me of James Harden, who I believe can average good numbers as a 1st or 2nd option.

  • kz

    i wouldn’t wish the cavs on my worst enemy…

  • http://www.dimemag.com Lucas Shapiro

    @Maynard I still think there is some risk in Irving. You have to remember, that is only three games. Would he have continued that all season long? I think he’s going to be a beast, but nothing is certain.

  • Shiptar

    Irving&Vesely combo would be amazing!

  • doug

    chris singleton fsu should b the cavs no1 small forward skills,nba body,and defends the hell out of you. no one coming out is gonna turn arounf anyone this year but singleton wouild be a nice start at small forward

  • Maynard

    Lucas, what about those first eight games he played left any doubt in your mind that he’d continue to play at a high level all year long?

  • http://www.dimemag.com Lucas Shapiro

    @Maynard Eight games? Eight games is not enough to solidify yourself as a first pick in the NBA Draft. Plus, aside from maybe Kalin Lucas or Jacob Pullen, what future NBA players did he play against? He’s a very good player but there are still some question marks.

  • Maynard

    Before the age limit, zero games was plenty to solidify players as a first pick in the NBA Draft. Irving was the best, most complete player in the country before he got hurt. He destroyed Lucas and Pullen, and he’s young enough to add “potential” to what he’s already proven. I’ve come to realize Irving apparently didn’t pass the Lucas Shapiro eye test, but other than that, I still don’t know what question marks there could be here. For instance, I wouldn’t think NBA teams would be scared off by the toe injury.

    Other than that, kid, I think you have an airtight argument. (It’s all good, I respect anyone who loves ball. Keep at it)

  • Matt

    I think the best option is looking like a trade down so as to avoid the pressure of having the no. 1 pick. They can parlay that into multiple picks which would ultimately help them fill many roles.

  • http://www.curtpalme.com/forum/files/you_re_a_homo_767.jpg JAY

    “Lucas Shapiro says:
    @Maynard I still think there is some risk in Irving. You have to remember, that is only three games. Would he have continued that all season long?”

    “Maynard says:
    Lucas, what about those first eight games he played… ”

    “Lucas Shapiro says:
    @Maynard Eight games? Eight games is not enough to solidify yourself as a first pick in the NBA Draft. Plus, aside from maybe Kalin Lucas or Jacob Pullen, what future NBA players did he play against? He’s a very good player but there are still some question marks.”

    “Maynard says:
    Before the age limit, zero games was plenty to solidify players as a first pick in the NBA Draft. Irving was the best, most complete player in the country before he got hurt. He destroyed Lucas and Pullen, and he’s young enough to add “potential” to what he’s already proven. I’ve come to realize Irving apparently didn’t pass the Lucas Shapiro eye test, but other than that, I still don’t know what question marks there could be here.”

    Ouch, Lucas…. Maynard schooled u on your own article. Although I disagree that Irving will go 1st overall, Maynard’s right about teams drafting guys after ZERO collegiate games. And Lucas, you really looking for more evidence outside of Pullen? What other PGs do you want to see him matched up against? Pullen’s one of the best PGs in the nation right now. Who else butchered Pullen the way Irving did?

  • Claw

    Not to take this off topic but what the hell happened to Evan Turner?

    I expected him to be one of the top 5 rookies, and he is nowhere near that and on a 76er team that doesn’t have GREAT players in front of him.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Lucas Shapiro

    @Maynard Thanks for being respectful. Don’t get me wrong, I am very high on Irving. It just would have been nice to see how he does against some more athletic and better defensive guards. That’s all I was saying. I think he could go #1 but just like any NBA prospect, there is some risk.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Lucas Shapiro

    @JAY All I’m saying is that it would have been nice to see how he would do against great defenders. I know that he did well against Shelvin Mack, but what I’d want to know is if he could continue that all season long.

  • ab40

    6-9 280 are you kidding me dude is overweight. the cavs already had an overweight pf a few years back.. his name? robert tractor traylor