Who should the Cavaliers draft first?

BY foxsports • April 3, 2011

Honestly, the Cleveland Cavaliers (and their fans) have been thinking about June's NBA draft since December. Now that it's April, it's really time to start thinking about it.

The Cavaliers seem likely to go into the NBA draft lottery with the best chance (25 percent) to land the first overall pick. Thanks to the Baron Davis-Mo Williams trade, the Cavs also have the Clippers' lottery pick. As of today, that pick is eighth. If the ping-pong balls fall the right way, it could be in the top three.

FOXSportsOhio.com staff writers Sam Amico and Zac Jackson tell us what they would do with those picks, based on the assumption that the picks will come at No. 1 and No. 8. The opinions and the circumstances are certainly subject to change.

SAM AMICO

If the Cavaliers land the No. 1 overall draft pick, I hope they draft Duke’s Kyrie Irving.

It’s true that Irving is a point guard and that the Cavs already have two on the roster, Davis and Ramon Sessions. It’s also true that Irving missed most of the season because of a serious toe injury.

But I saw enough of the kid during his freshman season to know he’s the most NBA-ready prospect out there. And I am confident Irving has the type of skills that can change the course of your franchise.

Irving is quick, an excellent ball-handler, can get to the basket against anyone (and finish) and is a fairly decent outside shooter. Or how about this: He shot nearly 60 percent on two-pointers this season. I especially like how he is equally effective playing a half-court game and running the fast break. And as talented as Irving is, he never forces a thing.

He is intelligent and exciting, with outstanding timing on his drives and great body control near the basket. On his Twitter account, Irving describes himself as “just a regular kid who enjoys life.” So he would probably be a good fit in Cleveland from a personality standpoint, too.

I know, I know. Most people think the Cavs are more desperate for help at the swing positions (small forward and shooting guard) and maybe center. And those people would be right. But I say draft the best guy regardless of position. In my mind, that guy is Irving.

Now, my colleague, Zac Jackson, is going to tell you the Cavs should take North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes.

I admit, Zac watches more college basketball than I do. So Zac can probably tell you more about Barnes than I can. And I’m sure his argument is strong. He’ll probably tell you that Barnes is clutch, that he’s 6-foot-8, skilled and has a real feel for the game.

All of that would be true.

But anytime I’ve seen Barnes, I’ve thought, “This guy is gonna be a good NBA player in a year or two.” When I see Irving, I think, “This guy is gonna be a good NBA player now.”

Now is when the Cavs need help, and that is why they should take Irving if they draft No. 1 overall.

And with the second pick, I say they again aim to select the best available player. One guy who fits that description, and should be available, is Colorado shooting guard Alec Burks.

Burks isn’t a big name in college basketball, as he plays for a so-so Big 12 team with little tradition. But I saw the kid play twice (along with a few YouTube highlights), and I really like what I’ve seen.

Burks was only 6-3 when he came to Colorado as a freshman but sprouted to 6-6 as a sophomore. Yet he maintained the quickness and ball-handling skills needed as a smaller player and he became an even more proficient scorer, mainly because he could just start shooting over people.

He is also one of the best shot-creators I witnessed at the college level this past season, a skill that translates very well to the pros. Burks is smooth, explosive and capable of driving to the basket from either side and finishing with either hand. He possesses a strong midrange game and is a very underrated passer and strong defender.

The Cavs have at least small gaps to fill at nearly every position, and Irving and Burks could plug any in the backcourt right away. Within a year, I predict they would be starting next to each other and forming the type of one-two punch this franchise hasn’t seen since the days of Mark Price and Ron Harper.

And wouldn’t that just be fun?

ZAC JACKSON

It has been no secret that the Cavs are going to have a chance to draft a really good player with a really high pick.

I know I don't get a vote, but if I did I'd already have Barnes' name written on a card.

This is not to say Irving won't be good, explosive or even spectacular. This is just me saying that Barnes best fits what the Cavaliers need in both the short and long term. As a silky-smooth small forward, he gives the Cavaliers the best chance to compete with the Eastern Conference big boys two years from now and is a good enough shooter to open the floor for the Cavaliers' other players, whomever they may eventually be.

Barnes' jumper is oh, so pretty. And it's textbook. He not only has started to believe in it from NBA 3-point range, but he's getting confident with other parts of his game, too. He reminds me a little of Kevin Durant with the way his "makes" touch only the bottom of the net. Now, he doesn't have that slingshot first step of Durant (or Kemba Walker), but he'll be a scoring threat from day one and have a chance to grow into a consistent All-Star.

Barnes doesn't have an NBA veteran's body, but at 19 he's pretty close. I had the chance to see him up close in Newark last week he, and he just looked like not only a pro but a really good one. The game is played at his speed. He hits the extra gear when necessary. Just when Carolina was left for dead against a Kentucky team that's full of pros (insert John Calipari vacated Final Fours joke here), Barnes took over and made it a game again.

One late possession that didn't go to Barnes — one that went from a Kentucky blocked shot to a Kentucky dagger 3 — turned out to be the one that kept Carolina out of the Final Four. Still, I saw enough to know that I want that guy to play for the Cavaliers.

I have an NBA draft theory for teams facing total rebuilds, and it's that bigger is better. There's still room for the little guy, and point guard is obviously a key position. If I know the basketball gods like I think I do, it's the position that will keep the Miami Heat out of the NBA Finals this year. But there are a lot of point guards in this draft and a bunch more coming in the next two. With no dominant post man in this draft, Barnes is the way to go.

A small forward with 18-point-a-game potential, a natural shooting stroke and room to grow? Sign me up. Immediately.

With that second pick, I'd again look big. But knowing the shape this draft is likely to take, at least as of right now, I'd also have to look back at Newark. And another freshman. And a guy who hits big shots and plays well beyond his years.

Brandon Knight saved Kentucky last weekend. He has led Kentucky most of the year. It's no coincidence that he's at his best and most comfortable now and that his teammates are also playing their best. He's a natural leader, a 4.0 student, a guy who can shoot it and score off the bounce. He's not Derrick Rose, but not many are. And I know he's anxious to test himself against Rose and the league's other great point guards.

Given a couple years to mature physically and grasp a system, I like his chances. Irving might be really, really good. I have a hard time believing he's tons better than Knight. Over time, he might not be any better than Knight.

I do think Burks will be a productive NBA player. Seeing him at Nike Camp last summer for just an hour led me to do hours of research. I just think Knight has a chance to be a really special player, the kind of guy who can produce like those other Calipari guards and the kind of guy who you'd want to be the face — or, ideally, one of the faces — of your franchise. He showed last weekend that he has guts and gusto. He's just a kid, and he's only going to get better.

Knight at No. 8 would be an absolute steal. It might also be a franchise-changer.


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