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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cavs Should Take Derrick Williams No. 1 in NBA Draft, Not Kyrie Irving

Convention says the Cleveland Cavaliers should take point guard Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Irving’s the safe pick, the “smart” choice, the guy who won’t send Cavs fans into the depths of agony again with a Decision-like defection. He’s the rebound girl.

He may not be “the one,” but at least he won’t break your heart.

The scouting report on Duke’s finest ranges from “above average NBA point guard” to “a one-car garage version of Chris Paul.” He’s the anti-LeBron James, a humble “sir” mumbler from a structured background and a pedigree school. He can run an offense and shoot the ball, but he won’t blow you away with his physical tools or his athleticism.

Having just had a long-term relationship go horribly wrong, a LeBron-type is exactly the type Cleveland is trying to avoid. They’re shell shocked. When LBJ took his talents to South Beach, it scarred them. Now they’d rather go with a “sure thing” than be challenged.

They don’t want to get hurt again.

Unfortunately, this is a mindset that’s leading them away from Derrick Williams, the most talented player in the draft and arguably its only true impact player. And that’s bad news because playing it safe never got anybody anywhere in the NBA. Just look at how the 2006 draft worked out for Toronto. Andrea Bargnani’s a good player, but he’s never going to lead the Raptors anywhere significant.

Irving will be a good (arguably very good) point guard in the NBA, but he’s as bland as A1. Williams is all Cajun spice. And, looking at the Cavaliers’ roster, it’s obvious they could use a little spice right now. (Let’s face it, Baron Davis, Antawn Jamison and J.J. Hickson won’t be selling out Quicken Loans Arena any time soon.)

Yes, Williams is confident. And, yes, it’s a confidence that borders on arrogance. But he also has the skills to back it up. It may not be the best public relations move to say so, but he has a point, for instance, when he says he should be the No. 1 overall pick.  Going back to the girlfriend analogy, you wouldn’t expect a girl with great looks and a killer personality to tell you she thinks you should date her friend instead, right?

So why should we expect Williams to tell us that he doesn’t deserve to be No. 1?

Offensively, Williams is an absolute juggernaut, something he demonstrated often during Arizona’s unexpected run to the Elite Eight this year. He has great strength and agility, which allows him to operate in the post; he can make shots from anywhere on the court, including 56.8 percent from beyond the arc; he’s great in isolation sets (he averaged 1.13 points per isolation possession, third best in the nation); and he can finish strong at the rim (remember this?).

Williams also gets to the free throw line often (11.6 times per 40 minutes) and is a good offensive rebounder (he had over 3 offensive boards in four of Arizona’s five NCAA Tournament games).

He’s not an accomplished ballhandler yet. His assist-to-turnover ratio leaves something to be desired. But he is able to find teammates out of double teams, and he rarely forces shots, which bodes well for his decision-making and his ability to work within a team’s offense.

Those worried about his outside shot not translating to the NBA arc need not lose sleep either. According to ESPN’s “Sports Science,” the release and rotation of Williams’ three-point shot is ideal. He’ll have no problem adjusting to that aspect of the pros.

He’s the most versatile, most exciting player in the draft. And at 20 years old, he’s only going to get better.

At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, there’s a concern that Williams can’t handle the defensive aspect of playing at the next level. He’s not strong enough to bang with power forwards, not quick enough to stay in front of wings. That’s the common perception.

The “tweener” label is a tough one to shake. Once it sticks, it’s like Gorilla Glue. But, really, it’s only that: a label. Being stuck between positions is a problem if you’re a guy like Shelden Williams. But it’s not if you have the athleticism Williams has.

He’s not some slow-footed, ground bound Ike Diogu clone. He’s dynamic. He can jump out of the gym.

Position identity is something Williams will struggle with at first, but it won’t be a long term problem. At worst, the Cavs could play him in the front court with Anderson Varejao and let Varejao shade off his man a la Dwight Howard when he used to cover for Rashard Lewis (although Williams is much stronger and much more tenacious than Lewis).

Picking Williams No. 1 overall would also create some nice ancillary benefits for the Cavs.

It would be the perfect segue to usher Antawn Jamison out of town, for instance. Jamison’s been a poor fit for Cleveland from the beginning, and his $15 million expiring contract makes him ideal trade bait. Moving him would certainly be a lot easier than moving the two years, $30 million remaining on Baron Davis’ contract (which would be the ideal move if Cleveland drafts Irving).

Also, picking Williams first overall would likely free up Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight for Cleveland at pick No. 4. The Timberwolves just arranged to bring Ricky Rubio overseas, so they definitely won’t be drafting a point guard second overall. That would mean Irving would drop to Utah at No. 3, and Knight would fall to fourth, creating an optimal mix of talent in Cleveland, rather than the awkward pairing of, say, Irving and unproven center Enes Kanter.

Kanter is like the draft version of a blind date. And we all know how badly those can turn out.

The buzz around Knight has been very good in pre-draft workouts. He may not be as polished as Irving, but he has good size and a closer’s mentality (which counts for a lot on a team like the Cavs with no proven go-to guys). He’s also coming out of the John Calipari Point Guard Factory — a huge factor considering Calipari’s track record the past few years (Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall). He’s going to be a legitimate player with a good career.

As reliable as Irving will be, if the Cavs don’t take Williams they’re going to regret it.

Irving is the nice girl from down the street your mom’s been trying to set you up with since the seventh grade. (Note to Mom: Sorry, never going to happen.) Williams is the Emma Stone look-a-like you meet at a house party who may or may not have daddy issues but gets along great with all your friends.

My point is this: You know what you’re getting with the girl down the street, and, yeah, there’s a solid chance the redhead has some skeletons in the closet, but you have to roll the dice anyway. The upside is too high. The girl’s a potential knockout.

That’s what Williams is: a potential knockout — a one-of-a-kind, All-Star level offensive talent. And the Cavs shouldn’t pass him up just because of tweener labels and PR profiles and the he’s not a stereotypical No. 1 nonsense.

He’s the best player. They should take him. End of story.

Cleveland has been burned in the past, but that doesn’t mean it has to settle for the rebound girl.

Photo Credit: Shotgun Spratling



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