Re-Drafting the Cavaliers: What could Chris Grant have done differently?

The 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers season hasn’t exactly gone as according to planned. Sure, the Cavs only sit three games back of the 8th seed for the Eastern Conference but that’s not exactly saying much considering that, at 11-23, they’re also only three and a half games up from the Bucks for the worst record in the league.

As the team flounders through a stretch where they’ve lost eight of their last nine and 10 of 12, things really don’t look good. They’re losing most of these games close, unlike at the beginning of the season where they were getting blown out, but losing is still losing. And the problem is that there don’t seem to be many solutions at this point and as the team craters toward another lottery appearance it doesn’t appear likely that Chris Grant will be the one doing the selecting when we get there.

While it’s clear that the current make-up of the team isn’t working, what isn’t clear necessarily is what should have been done differently. I have been in general agreement with the slow-build approach through the draft that Grant has employed—what is commonly known as the “Oklahoma City model”. The problem is that, despite having four picks in the top four of three drafts, the talent just hasn’t been at the level of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.

Just going back and looking at those drafts, there weren’t a ton of options beyond the guys that the Cavs ended up with…

2011

Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving was obviously the correct choice at No. 1 and has probably been the best player out of those three drafts depending how you feel about Anthony Davis at this point.

Tristan Thompson went at No. 4, and while he’s certainly been better than the two guys taken ahead of him at Nos. 2 and 3 (Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter), there are a couple later selections who have looked better so far.

Jonas Valanciunas (No. 5) was a bit of an enigma at the time and there were reports that it might be some time before he would be released from his foreign contract. Many believe this is why the Cavs passed on him. Some like him better than Tristan especially on the defensive end. Their numbers are pretty similar overall and the difference isn’t stark enough to make a significant difference.[1]

Klay Thompson (No. 11), on the other hand, is someone who could pose a potential difference.[2] Thompson’s elite shooting ability is something that would work well next to Kyrie, much in the way it does with him and Steph Curry in Golden State. I did point out a couple weeks ago, though, how Dion Waiters’ spot-up three point percentage is almost the same as Thompson’s. So maybe theory and reality don’t play out the same here necessarily.

Kawhi Leonard (No. 15) is the other name that often gets mentioned as he would obviously fill the gaping hole that we still have at small forward.[3] Leonard is obviously in the perfect situation for him in San Antonio where his deficiencies as a shooter are masked as he is not really asked to be much of a scorer on that team. However, his defense is a real difference-maker and he combines that with competent play on offense (something we can’t say about our “beloved” Alonzo Gee).

Other players who could be considered are the Morris twins (Nos. 13 and 14), Nikola Vucevic (No. 16), and Tobias Harris (No. 19).

2012

Waiters 005

I love Dion Waiters. This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed me for any length of time. He hasn’t been great as the No. 4 pick in that draft but he hasn’t been bad either.[4]

Harrison Barnes (No. 7) is the name that is brought up most often as he plays the elusive SF position and he was a “hot” commodity coming out of college having been a major high school player who played at a big college program. But Barnes hasn’t been great in the NBA. He was a lower PER than Waiters and is actually best when he’s playing out position at either SG or PF. That seems odd but if you watched the playoffs against the Spurs you can understand why. He got a lot of minutes as a small-ball 4 and was often being checked by smaller guards like Tony Parker who he was able to take advantage of. (The Spurs did this to take away Curry and Thompson. Barnes put up numbers, but it hurt the team because it took their best players out of the game. San Antonio obviously ended up winning the series.) When matched up against guys his size playing SF he is not a productive player according to 82games.com. I don’t buy into him being a better player than Waiters by any means.[5]

Damian Lillard (No. 6) is obviously a great player whose numbers are right there with Kyrie. The Cavs though didn’t want another point guard. One could argue that the issue that might have presented by taking another PG is the same one they’re dealing with having Dion, but that was likely their rationale. They weren’t drafting another PG. For what it’s worth, I’m a big believer that you just take the best talent. If Grant and company believed that Lillard was a better player than Dion but passed because of the positional need then they made the wrong pick.[6]

Andre Drummond (No. 9) probably provides the greatest case for a missed player. It’s worth noting in the body instead of just a footnote that when running a swap of Waiters for Drummond (and an extra worthless salary piece) through the trade machine that the Hollinger analysis yields a +4 wins for the Cavs and a -7 losses for the Pistons. Drummond is a phenomenal talent who has really played well and is starting to develop into a difference-making player in the NBA—something I should add that I didn’t think would happen. I am a UConn Huskies basketball fan and watched most of Drummond’s college games. I was not impressed. He didn’t work hard and often disappeared in games which is hard to do when you’re his size. He played soft many times because he was afraid of getting fouled as he’s one of the worst free throw shooters ever. I wasn’t sold that he’d put forth the effort to be a truly great NBA player and wanted nothing of him on the Cavs…I was wrong. He’s been really good. Part of that might have been the result of being motivated by dropping in the draft a little but we’ll never know.

Tyler Zeller was taken with the No. 17 pick and I don’t want to get too carried away with different guys that could have been taken here since it’s historically a crap-shoot once you get to this spot of the draft whether you’ll land an impact player. But, Terrance Jones[7] and Jared Sullinger[8] are both much more productive players than Zeller has been to this point. In Zeller’s defense, he got thrown into the fire last season after Varejao went down and was playing way too many minutes. This year he lost his spot in the rotation to Bynum and is just now working back in. So this one isn’t a done deal by any means.

2013

Bennett 001

It’s tough to really quantify what has happened here with this draft as it’s still quite early…but this draft class is really terrible so far. Beyond Anthony Bennett who we’re all well aware has been fairly well worthless, there isn’t much to love about the rest of the class. Michael Carter-Williams (another PG) has played really well but there was no way in heck he was going No. 1. Victor Oladipo played well for a while but has really tailed off to the point that he’s only at 40% shooting, 27% from three, with 3.3 turnovers per game. Trey Burk (again, a PG) has played well since coming back from injury but also isn’t shooting good at all (38%) and also wasn’t a realistic option at No. 1.

The rest of the top picks shakes out like this…
Otto Porter—12 games, 29 points total
Cody Zeller—worse PER than his brother
Alex Len—4 games total
Nerlens Noel—nothing
Ben McLemore—36% FG, 34% 3PT, 8.4 PPG, 7.76 PER

Anthony Bennett’s 2.2 PER (in significantly fewer minutes than guys like MCW or Oladipo and even McLemore for the record) takes the cake for sure, but I’m not sure that the Cavs really any better at this point if they would have taken any of these other guys.[9]

Recap

The Cavs have basically selected a starting five of Irving, Waiters, Bennett, Thompson, and Zeller.

Here are some potential lineups they could have had instead:

Iving, K. Thompson, Porter, Sullinger, Drummond
Irving, Oladipo, Leonard, T. Jones, Drummmond.
Irving, McLemore, Barnes, Sullinger, Valanciunas
Irving, Lillard, Kemba Walker, MCW, Tony Wroten (the all-PG team)

Hindsight is always 20-20 in these situations and it’s a lot easier to put these kinds of teams together now than it was at the time as things developed. The reality is two-fold…

First, you could probably perform this same exercise with just about every other team that’s been in the lottery recently. The Bobcats, for instance, could have ended up with MCW, K. Thompson, K. Leonard, and Drummond instead of Biyombo, Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist, and C. Zeller.[10]

Second, the idea that anyone could replicate what OKC did by coming out of those drafts with Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, and even Jeff Green is utterly inconceivable. They didn’t end up with a dud in the whole bunch and four of the five have ended up as All-Stars. You could say that that’s just good drafting (which it is) but history has shown us that drafts are very difficult to predict and are probably gotten wrong more often than they were gotten right. While it’s easy now to say “The Cavs should have drafted Klay Thompson or Leonard over Tristan” that slides over the fact that Klay was passed over 10 times and Leonard 14 times before they were selected. It wasn’t like Chris Grant was the only one who didn’t see the light. And this happens all the time. If every team could have known that Andre Drummond would actually work hard to improve his game unlike he did in college then he would have gone second in that draft after Davis. Same thing goes for Lillard. Drafting isn’t easy.

But, given the uncertain nature of drafts, it would have behooved Grant to take advantage of…

Free Agency

Bynum 001

This has probably the most under-discussed area of missed opportunities, particularly with regard to the small forward position. I understand their reasoning for not making big moves the previous few off seasons as they weren’t in a rush to get too good, too fast. But let’s just look at this past summer when they were in “win now” mode.

The Cavs signed Andrew Bynum at $12.25M (obviously with the $6M opt-out), Jarrett Jack at $6.3M and Earl Clark at $4.25M. That’s a total of almost $23M of cap dollars used. Would the Cavs be better off now having spent that money on those players or having spent $12.8M on Andre Iguodala?

I understand why the Cavs did what they did. The contracts of Bynum and Clark are not guaranteed next year which guarantees them the flexibility to sign a big-name guy next summer and we all know who that is in theory. But the reality of the situation is that with the team currently constituted LeBron James would have to be an idiot to leave Miami to come to this mess. One could make the case that we’re in worse shape now that when he left, even considering that we do have another star in Kyrie. Planning on that theoretical chance of him coming back was never a viable team-building strategy. Plus, with the extra $9M left over in the difference between deals with Iggy and the guys we got, coupled with Varejao’s non-guaranteed $9M, Gee’s non-guaranteed $3M, and CJ Miles’ $2.2M coming off the books, they’d be able to work it to sign a guy like LeBron in the insane chance that he’d actually want to come here.

The lack of a small forward is the biggest problem that is hurting the Cavs this season and has been an empty hole for four years now. Yet the only thing that has been done to address the issue is to sign Earl Clark to play out of position in that spot. In my opinion the Cavs would be better off just playing CJ Miles at small forward even with his defensive limitations. He’s at least competent enough to dribble the basketball when called upon and is an actual offensive weapon. When Clark and Gee are the court the opposing defense only has to worry about four guys. This kills the team.

This has been such a detriment to the team that you could have actually talked me into paying Josh Smith $13.5M to play out of position because I know he’ll at least be able to dribble the ball and not step out of bounds with the game on the line.

I’m still of the mind that we should be trying to win this season. If Grant can swing a deal to improve the team this year then he should make it. As crazy as it is that the Cavs are only 3 games back of the 8th spot, they’re also only 7 back of the 3rd spot. That’s how bad the East is. If they could somehow manage to package together this hodgepodge of players for a viable difference-maker that could actually make a profound impact in how this season plays out.

If the trade of Bynum for Richard Jefferson is still on the table then I do that trade right now. Jefferson isn’t anything close to what he used to be but he’s a better option at SF than what we’ve got right now. And he’d actually, you know, be a part of the team as opposed to Bynum.

I’m not throwing away this season. But if Chris Grant wants to stick around to see this thing through then he’d better get his glasses on and start making moves and not be so attached to the players that he’s drafted. I love Dion and Tristan, but they’re not good enough to be un-tradable at this point.[11]


[1] Ran this through the trade machine and the links aren’t working but the analysis (while not perfect obviously) showed that flipping the two players wouldn’t change the win totals for either team.

[2] Trade machine: +1 win for the Cavs, -2 for Warriors.

[3] Trade machine: +3 wins for the Cavs, -1 for Spurs.

[4] Trade machine result of a Waiters for Bradley Beal swap: no difference for either team…so there’s that.

[5] Trade machine: -2 wins for Cavs, +1 for Warriors.

[6] Trade machine: +1 wins for Cavs, but a whopping -7 for Blazers.

[7] Trade machine: +2 wins for Cavs, -5 for Rockets.

[8] Trade machine: +2 wins for Cavs, -4 for Celtics.

[9] Ran some of the swaps through the trade machine and nothing really improved the Cavs other than +1 win for Oladipo. A Bennett for MCW trade, while doing nothing to help CLE, would cost PHI -8 wins though.

[10] I just picked a group conceivable non-overlapping parts. They also passed up Bradley Beal, Lillard, Waiters, Barnes, Burke…really a slew of good players.

[11] For the record, I would not give up Waiters along with Bynum for half a season of Gasol. I’d give up a Miami pick or something before I give up Dion this early for a rental.

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3 thoughts on “Re-Drafting the Cavaliers: What could Chris Grant have done differently?

  1. Pingback: Cleveland Cavaliers Trade for Luol Deng: Chris Grant works his magic again | Cleveland the GOAT

  2. Pingback: The Cavaliers find a New Low Point: Mike Brown might need to be fired | Cleveland the GOAT

  3. Pingback: Cavaliers Fire Chris Grant because Someone Needed to Lose Their Job | Cleveland the GOAT

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