One year ago, Andrew Wiggins was the consensus top prospect for the 2014 NBA Draft. Once the college season was underway, Jabari Parker surged to the head of the pack. As the calendar flipped to January, Joel Embiid emerged as the likeliest candidate to be chosen with the number one pick. Then the injury bug bit Embiid and threw everything in flux. These things are fluid, obviously, but there’s fresh news to report: The Cleveland Cavaliers have begun to hone in on Parker just days removed from the draft.
The report, courtesy of CBSSports’ Ken Berger, says that the Cavs are currently “leaning toward” selecting Parker. The Milwaukee Bucks reportedly prefer Wiggins in that scenario.
With Joel Embiid’s foot surgery, and the reported 4-6 month recovery that comes with it, the Cavs are said to be leaning toward Duke’s Jabari Parker with the No. 1 pick. Parker is more NBA-ready than Andrew Wiggins, who would go to the Bucks at No. 2. Rival executives believe it would be out of character for Cleveland GM David Griffin to trade the top pick, and believe Bucks GM John Hammond would be hard-pressed to deviate from the other consensus top player in the draft after Embiid’s injury shook up the top of the lottery.
Embiid’s broken foot is the latest and greatest wrinkle in this wild draft season. He’s emerged as something close to the clear-cut best prospect of this class in a vacuum, but teams choosing among the draft’s top picks are weary of selecting a player that could be injury-prone for the duration of his career. It certainly doesn’t help that he’s poised to be sidelined for the next 4-6 months after undergoing surgery on Friday, either.
Whether or not that last point should matter is up for debate. Nerlens Noel dropped in the 2013 draft because he was going to miss a portion of his initial NBA season, but Blake Griffin went first in the 2009 draft despite a similar prognosis. The quality of each player in this specific case matters, obviously; if the prospect in question is rated similarly to others, it makes sense for teams to choose the healthy option. But if they aren’t? It’s hard to argue that a team should opt against taking the draft’s best player simply because he’ll miss part or even all of his first professional season. Only the Cavaliers know for sure if they’re going that confounding direction.
If it’s believed that Embiid’s foot problem could linger, however, taking a different route seems prudent. Selecting Parker or any player because he’s more “NBA ready” than a similarly appraised prospect is dangerous, though. Teams choosing among the draft’s top few picks shouldn’t think of ‘immediate impact’ as an all-encompassing trump card. If hard-lined any way, in fact, they should hedge toward potential. Championships aren’t won in a single year unless you’re the 2008 Boston Celtics, but by preferring Parker, Cleveland seems to be forgetting that truth.
Furthermore, the universal notion that Parker is more capable of making an impact from day one than Wiggins is dubious at best. Parker is a gifted offensive player and quality rebounder, but he won’t score the ball or clean the glass at elite levels next season. He’ll have an adjustment period to his areas of strength like all other players, and his deficiencies as a defender and athlete will be magnified, too.
The thinking goes that Wiggins is far enough behind Parker from a skill perspective that the latter’s adjustment to the NBA game will be smoother than the former’s. That’s a narrow thought process. Wiggins will be a plus defender and transition beast from day one, and will benefit greatly in the halfcourt from extra space provided by the NBA three-point line. It’s true that Parker will likely be the more effective individual scorer next season, but that shouldn’t matter any more than Wiggins projecting as the superior defender and finisher. Mid-range step-backs are pretty, but run-out layups gleaned from solid defense are just as valuable.
Having said that, the Cavaliers should certainly take Parker if he’s atop their post-Embiid injury board. All teams weigh health concerns and NBA readiness differently, and there’s no tried-and-true science to the draft. For the city of Cleveland’s sake, let’s just hope the Cavs aren’t weighing them too heavily in leaning toward Parker.
Who do you think the Cavaliers should pick?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.