by Joe Gabriele, Cavs.com
The Cavaliers are hoping to get a true difference-maker when they make their top pick – No. 5 overall – on Thursday night in Brooklyn. But Cleveland also intends to bolster its young roster with the No. 26 overall pick, acquired from Houston in a three-team Deadline deal last year.
We’d love to write that several stars have emerged from the 26th pick, but that’d be inaccurate. There have been, however, some rock-solid pros that have been selected at that spot – including Taj Gibson (2009), Vlade Divac (1989), Jerome Williams – the Junkyard Dog (1996), Andre Roberson (2013), Zanesville’s own Kevin Martin (2004) and just last season, All-Rookie Second Teamer, Landry Shamet.
The Wine & Gold have had the No. 26 pick three times in their history, including the team’s first year of existence – tabbing Ohio State’s Dave Sorenson (1970), OSU’s Allan Hornyak (1973) and Notre Dame’s Bruce Flowers (1979) with those selections.
Anything can happen on Draft Night – especially one that’s already been shaken up by a major trade at the top.
So whoever climbs or tumbles to 26 on Thursday is anyone’s guess. But here are a few names that just might be called when the Cavaliers choose this year’s second First Round pick …
GOGA BITADZE – 6-11, 250 – Born: July 20, 1999 – (Sagarejo, Georgia) – Team: Mega Bemax – In an era in which the plodding, back-down center is an NBA dinosaur, Goga is what current franchises covet – a big man who can rebound, run the floor, block a shot or two and can hit the three-pointer. Bitadze is all those things.
Drawing comparisons to Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic, Goga is a 6-11 center who plays with passion – according to scouts, maybe too much at times – and has been playing against Europe’s big boys since he was 16. He’s extremely mobile for his size, has a varied offensive arsenal and is an above average shot-blocker and rebounder.
The big question for Bitadze is whether or not his game will translate to the NBA? It’s likely he’ll struggle against more athletic competition, but you can’t teach a high motor and instinctive offense. And in a pair of games against American talent – Kentucky and Michigan – he played very well, including a 16-point, 10-board performance vs. the Wolverines in an exhibition last August.
Think John Beilein remembers?
BRANDON CLARKE – 6-8, 210 – Born: September 9, 1996 – (Phoenix, AZ) – School: Gonzaga – Any player with the individual and team resume that Brandon Clarke has posted should be a sure Lottery pick – and the San Jose State transfer still might be. But if he slips to where the Wine & Gold can get their hands on him, the reason will be based solely on his size.
Clarke – who, along with Washington’s Matisse Thybulle and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter – is easily one of the best defenders in this year’s class. In fact, he led the NCAA in defensive rating last season, when he averaged over three blocks per contest while measuring in at just 6-8.
Clarke might not be a 20.0 ppg scorer at the next level, but he guarded four positions in college and can likely do the same in the Association. That’s not to say he’s not efficient on the offensive end – finishing last season averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 boards per while shooting a jaw-dropping 69 percent from the floor. And he’s one of the toughest, most hard-nosed players in the Draft.
Clarke posted poor measurables at the Combine, for what that’s worth. But like many players on this list, teams will have to look past some warts to see how a player can contribute at the next level. And there have been plenty of undersized big men who’ve navigated long NBA careers.
TY JEROME – 6-5, 195 – Born: July 8, 1997 – (New Rochelle, NY) – School: Virginia – Is it possible the Cavaliers could wrap up Thursday’s first round with two more Cavaliers? Several mock drafts have the Wine & Gold tabbing De’Andre Hunter with their top pick at No. 5. Could they take Hunter’s point man at No. 26?
If you watched Virginia’s title run last year, you saw a point guard with the “it” factor – a confident combo-guard with built-in toughness who learned the game on the playgrounds of New York City. Jerome – who started 71 games in back-to-back 30-win seasons – is a proven winner, having led the ‘Hoos to the 2019 title. He averaged 13.6 ppg as a senior, 5.4 apg over his last two years in Charlottesville.
Jerome brings more than intangibles to the party. He shot just under 40 percent from long-range over his college career and has the size, IQ and tenacity to play both backcourt positions at the next level. He’s an outstanding ballhandler and decision maker, posting an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio. On the other end, he was a lockdown defender throughout his career at Virginia.
The knock on Jerome is his overall lack of athleticism. He’s not an explosive, above-the-rim type player and will struggle against those type of guys in the league. But he succeeded at the highest level in college without those qualities, and the ones he has – toughness, intelligence, consistency – usually translate well anywhere.
CAMERON JOHNSON – 6-8, 205 – Born: March 3, 1996 – (Moon Township, PA) – School: North Carolina– Teams focus far less on “upside” in the late first round, but teams focus on “shooting” at any stage of the first round. And this year’s marksmen don’t get any better than North Carolina senior, Cameron Johnson – who shot 46 percent from deep in his senior season at Chapel Hill and 41 percent for his college career.
The “upside” problem comes with the fact that he’ll turn 24 in early March and is viewed as just an average athlete by NBA standards. By the same token, the former ACC All-First Team performer – who kept top-5 recruit (and probable Lottery pick) Nassir Little, out of the starting lineup all year – can step right in and contribute as a rookie.
Johnson has limitless range and a pure shooting stroke. He improved his midrange game over the course of his college career, is an outstanding free throw shooter and had his biggest games under the brightest lights against the toughest competition.
Teams won’t go into Thursday’s Draft wondering what Johnson will become. They know what he is. And based on that knowledge, he’ll be off the board before Mark Tatum takes the stage.
DYLAN WINDLER – 6-7, 195 – Born: September 22, 1996 – (Indianapolis, IN) – School: Belmont – Another older prospect who put himself on the Draft map with a monster senior season at Belmont. The lefty two-guard led the Bruins to their first Tourney appearance and victory this season as one of only three players in Division I to average at least 20.0 points and 10.0 boards this past season.
Windler turns 23 in September and, as is the knock with most players his age, doesn’t look to have a big upside. But how much more can he do – canning 100 triples as a senior, shooting 43 percent from deep on 7.1 attempts per game. And his senior campaign wasn’t an anomaly; he shot 43 percent from beyond the arc as a junior, 40 percent as a sophomore.
He’ll need to hit the weights at the next level to improve on his thin frame, but Windler is a tremendous multi-sport athlete with very good measurables; he’s a legit 6-8 with a 6-11 wingspan. He’s an aggressive player – both in looking for his shot, but also on the glass and the defensive end.
Like any senior that’s drafted – it’s a lot of ‘what-you-see-it-what-you-get.’ If a great college player is out of his depth at the NBA level, it’s apparent almost immediately. But limitless three-point range, a high-motor and wiry athleticism are qualities that usually transcend everything else. Will that be the case for Windler?