July 25, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Commentary: Put it in ink; Irving will be No. 1 pick

It’s started already and will continue right up until the June 23 NBA Draft.

“The Cavaliers should take Arizona small forward Derrick Williams at No. 1, then pick a point guard like UConn’s Kemba Walker or Kentucky’s Brandon Knight at No. 4.”

“The Cavs should follow the Browns’ lead and trade down in an attempt to get three picks in the top 10.”

“The Cavs should trade for Dwight Howard.”

“The Cavs should trade for Rudy Gay.”

“The Cavs should trade for O.J. Mayo.”

“The Cavs should …”

No, no, no, no, 1,000 times no.

The Cavs should — and will — thank their lucky stars a 2.8 percent chance they acquired from the moronic Los Angeles Clippers came to fruition and take Duke point guard Kyrie Irving at No. 1.
Done. Over. Case closed.

It’s that simple, that clear cut, that easy.

Barring some blockbuster trade that’s totally unforeseen right now — and after all the talk, after all the scenarios, after all the conjecture — that’s exactly what is going to happen.

Irving, plain and simple, is the best player in this draft — by a substantial margin.

The NBA is not the NFL, where you need dozens of players to compete. The NBA is a star-driven league where one great player can make a substantial — and immediate — impact.

The 19-year-old Irving is the closest thing there is to a sure thing in this relatively weak draft. He’s a potential All-Star, maybe even a potential franchise-type player. He can drive. He can shoot. He can pass. On top of that, he appears to be a class act.

Sure, he had a toe injury that limited him to 11 games as a freshman, but it’s not like the thing was amputated.

Sure, he went to Duke and not all Dukies have prospered in the NBA, but that has nothing to do with this player or this pick.

Don’t complicate things. Just take him and be happy you got him, which is exactly what the Cavs will do when all is said and done.

Then, to use a popular Cavs phrase, do your due diligence and hope you take the right player at No. 4.

Unlike taking the 6-foot-2, 182-pound Irving, that choice won’t be nearly so clear, nearly so easy.

The next tier of players includes Arizona’s Williams, Kentucky center Enes Kanter, the Czech Republic’s Jan Vesely and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.

You can throw UConn’s Walker and Kentucky’s Knight into that group as well, but the Cavs, who already have Ramon Sessions and will — no matter what they say publicly — try to trade aging Baron Davis and his $28 million contract for something (anything), aren’t likely to take two point guards.

For that reason, we’ll limit our discussion to Williams, Kanter, Vesely and Valanciunas, two of whom might be taken by Minnesota at No. 2 and Utah at No. 3.

The 6-8, 240-pound Williams, who improved his stock by leaps and bounds in the NCAA Tournament, will certainly be one of them, probably by the Timberwolves at No. 2.

With a great body and tremendous athleticism, the guy has a chance to be a very, very good NBA player, but he’s not Irving.

There are concerns among some teams — and the Cavs could well be one of them — that his game is best suited for power forward, while his body is best suited for small forward.

That’s not a reason not to take him, because in the end a good player is a good player, but again, Irving is better, more of a sure thing.

It’s that simple.

That leaves Utah, which already has a quality center in Al Jefferson, at No. 3. The Jazz could still take the 6-11, 272-pound Kanter, or they could take Walker, Knight, Vesely or Valanciunas.

In a worst-case scenario, that means at least two — and maybe all three — out of the group of Kanter, Vesely and Valanciunas will be available for the Cavs at No. 4.

Kanter, who didn’t play a minute at Kentucky after being ruled ineligible for taking money from a pro team in Turkey, is a legitimate NBA center and already has a fairly polished game. He figures to be a good pro, but may never be a great one.

The early guess here is the Cavs will take him in a heartbeat if he’s available at No. 4, but that he won’t be on the board.

Valanciunas, another center who is said to already possess solid low-post skills, has more upside but is not as polished. The 6-11, 240-pounder lacks strength, but his long-range potential is intriguing.

Vesely is also 6-11, 240, with skills similar to Andrei Kirilenko, a very good NBA player before being beset by injury. Vesely, whom some project as a small forward and others think is a power forward, is said to be extremely athletic, but weak defensively at the moment.

On paper, any of the three makes sense for the Cavs, but picking the right one — or perhaps someone we haven’t even mentioned — will be paramount.

There’s no such question, no such debate, at No. 1.

The Cavs will take Kyrie Irving.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.