The Cleveland Cavaliers are on top of the NBA draft yet again, only this time there is no LeBron James waiting to save them. There may not even be a Kyrie Irving.
The first big NBA draft question was answered Tuesday night when the Cavaliers won the lottery for the second time in three years. But there are still plenty of questions about a draft that many talent evaluators think lacks the star power of previous years.
And they start right at the top. There is no consensus No. 1 selection. Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel may come the closest, but he is recovering from a torn ACL that will likely keep him out until at least December. Kansas guard Ben McLemore, Indiana guard Victor Oladipo and Georgetown forward Otto Porter also are considered some of the top players in the draft.
“I think it’s a balanced draft,” new Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said. “You don’t have an Alonzo Mourning, a Patrick Ewing, a guy like Derrick Rose, Shaquille O’Neal. You don’t have that one player that might single-handedly change the face of the franchise. It’s going to be a draft where you might see a player taken at 12 that some other team might take at No. 6.”
Observations like that are common, leading some to label the draft weak.
Saunders is among several executives and talent evaluators who disagree with that characterization, instead taking encouragement from the overall depth.
“There isn’t a player that has wowed or completely dominated college or international ball to create that buzz or whatever,” said Ryan Blake, the NBA’s senior director of scouting operations. “We have a bucket load of really good players that are going to make an impact immediately.”
Noel is the wild card who could shape the rest of the draft. The 6-foot-10 center from Kentucky was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country, but he tore the ACL in his left knee Feb. 12, giving him just over half a season of college experience before going to the pros. He hopes to make his NBA debut sometime in December, but some teams could be concerned after watching Rose sit out an entire season with the same injury.
“They say this draft isn’t running over with great talent, but believe me, there will be eight or 10 players from the draft, you’ll look back and say they had really good careers,” Orland Magic senior vice president Pat Williams said after losing the No. 1 spot to the Cavaliers in the lottery.
Teams looking to add big men will find plenty in this draft, including Noel, Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Maryland’s Alex Len, Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, Louisville’s Gorqui Dieng and Pitt’s Steven Adams.
And as the draft moves on into the late first round, promising prospects like Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr., Miami’s Shane Larkin and Russia’s Sergey Karasev are there for the taking.
“Some teams want to hit that home run,” Blake said. “They’re going to take a chance. But no matter what you get in this deep draft, you’re going to have guys that come in and can be a 10-point, 10-rebound guys for 10 years.”