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

By: 01.26.11  •  23 Comments

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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