The NBA Finals and LeBron James’ cramps have taken center stage for the NBA in the past week. But a few weeks prior, the Cleveland Cavaliers were fortunate enough to land the top pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, seemingly guaranteeing them a chance at the top selection in a loaded draft class.
Ironically, this year’s Finals matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat features a marquee matchup between one of the best big men to ever play the game and one of the best perimeter players to ever step out on the hardwood. James and Tim Duncan highlight the championship chase, but they also are a good measuring stick for the Cavs when they grade small forward Andrew Wiggins and bigs Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker.
The 20-year-old Embiid has size, mobility and potential, which could turn the seven-footer into the draft’s top selection and make him similar to Duncan, the 1999 NBA Draft’s first pick. But Wiggins and Parker represent the type of athleticism that has become the prototype across the Association thanks to the dominance of players such as James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. The Cavs could go a number of ways, but which makes the most sense? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: It’s a simple choice for the Cavs: draft Embiid. The 20-year-old Cameroon native hasn't been playing basketball long, but in the limited time that he has spent on the court, he's been the most impressive player on it. Embiid blocks shots, runs the court and finishes smoothly. Pairing him with Kyrie Irving and a couple of solid pieces in Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters would give Cleveland a quartet of blue-chippers all under the age of 23. Drafting Wiggins or Parker only crowds the frontcourt following their selection last year of combo forward Anthony Bennett. Bennett’s inaugural season was a disaster, but he did flash potential late in the season and he’s still young enough at 21 that he deserves a chance to develop. Embiid had a back issue that caused him to miss the NCAA tournament, but that shouldn’t be enough to steer the Cavs away from landing an excellent prospect at center.
Green: I’m not rushing to sign up for a big man with a back problem. A stress fracture in Embiid’s lower back might be a one time thing or a recurring problem but nevertheless, it is a topic. It’s not too often you can “play it safe” in an NBA draft and still land two other players that both have the resume to be a no. 1 pick. Despite Bennett’s selection last year, the flexibility of both Wiggins and Parker would allow them to slip in and out of different positions with ease. A classic small forward, Wiggins could play shooting guard in a pinch and allow for Waiters to continue a sixth-man role, which he’s best suited for. Ideally, you would want Parker as a “Stretch 4” power forward, but he might be athletic enough to operate as a small forward, giving him the same flexibility with which Bennett was originally branded. Embiid is fantastic, but the immediate returns lie in a Parker/Wiggins investment. Keep in mind that Irving only has two years left on his rookie deal. The team needs to win now and might not have the time to wait for Embiid's back or offensive game to improve.
Riley: The drafting of Wiggins or Parker would give Irving even more reason to leave, in my opinion. Both players have been hyped over the last two seasons, both have a penchant for scoring, and fans obviously want to see them with the ball in their hands, all of which might be enough of a distraction for Irving to consider relocating. Not all young players can handle sharing the spotlight and we’ve already seen Irving and Waiters clash over the same issue. Embiid’s the type of player who doesn’t need to score major points to make a major impact. Cleveland could just designate Embiid as their defensive anchor while his offensive game, which is still a tad raw, improves. In the mean time, Waiters and Irving would continue to get the bulk of the shots, and if Bennett comes on then you have one of the more attractive starting fives in the Association. I’m always against drafting players to cater to other players currently on the roster, but Irving can flat-out play. He’s a top scorer and playmaker in the NBA already despite being just a few years into his career. He’s the type of player you want to build around, and attaching a center to his point guard abilities is the standard recipe for success. Wiggins and Parker will be paid to score but with Irving and Wiggins already on the team, how many scorers can one team handle?
Green: Cleveland already catered to an NBA star before and he left them stranded. I doubt they will refocus their rebuilding strategy under the same mindset. Wiggins or Parker would give Cleveland a star to build around in case Irving does leave. But should Irving stay, the Cavs will probably try to move Waiters anyway and just rebuild around their point guard and their newest swingman. I’m convinced Wiggins will be a star player, and I trust that Parker can be a top scorer at the NBA level. I just find it impossible to pass on those two talents for a prospect at center who may never be a great scorer.