December 19, 2014

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NBA Draft, lottery only bright spots for Cavs

Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao will miss six to eight weeks with a quadriceps injury, the Browns just hired a head coach and spring training is right around the corner for the Indians.

That means the next time anyone is really going to care about the club Cavs general manager Chris Grant is building — building? — is May 21, which is when the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery will be held.

Cody Zeller

After that, it will be the June 27 NBA Draft, which for the third year running will be far and away the highlight of the professional basketball season in Cleveland.

Having gone 19-63 in 2010-11, 21-45 in 2011-12 and 9-30 in 2012-13 prior to a Monday game in Sacramento — that’s 49-138, for those keeping score at home — the Cavs will once again have a very high pick, as only 6-28 Washington had a worse record to start the week.

(As an aside, the Cavs also have the right to exchange Miami’s first-round pick for the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round pick, but only if the Lakers make the playoffs. That means Cleveland could pick as high as No. 15 if Los Angeles has the worst record among postseason qualifiers. If the Lakers don’t make the playoffs, the Cavs will keep Miami’s pick, which will be near the end of the first round.)

That in mind, let’s take a very early look at some of the top prospects who might be in the draft and could possibly join Kyrie Irving (No. 1 in 2011), Tristan Thompson (No. 4 in 2011), Dion Waiters (No. 4 in 2012) and Tyler Zeller (No. 17 in 2012) in Cleveland:

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: Muhammad is a 6-foot-6, 223-pound shooting guard who just turned 19 in November. The freshman left-hander is averaging 19.6 points and shooting a very respectable .491 from the field, including .486 on 3-pointers, but the Pac-12 is not exactly noted for stellar defense.

Muhammad is considered a natural scorer and above-average shooter, but there are some concerns about his ballhandling, especially in the half-court. He’s not considered an off-the-charts athlete, but is said to have a high basketball IQ. He also might be able to play small forward in the NBA as he adds strength, which could make him attractive to the Cavs.

Muhammad missed three games to start the season after being suspended by the NCAA for accepting improper benefits, but was reinstated in mid-November.

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Noel is a 6-11, extremely thin 216-pound center who doesn’t turn 19 until April. The freshman is averaging 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds for the Wildcats while shooting .557 from the field and a woeful .542 at the line.

Noel is considered an extremely athletic big man with almost unlimited potential, but from his frame to his game, he’s also very, very, very raw. His offensive repertoire at this point consists mainly of a variety of dunks, he needs better footwork around the basket and his strength — or lack thereof — is a serious issue.

If Noel develops, he could be a star. If he doesn’t, he could be a bust. Either way, it will be years before we know for sure.

Alex Len, Maryland: Len is a 7-1, 225-pound center who will turn 20 in June. The sophomore is averaging 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds while playing less than 25 minutes a game for the Terrapins. Len is shooting .564 from the field and .667 at the line.

A native of Ukraine, Len was suspended by the NCAA for 10 games as a freshman due to his affiliation with a professional team in his home country. He is considered a good athlete, and the fact he’s added some bulk shows he’s willing to work and understands what it will take to succeed at the next level.

The “wow” factor, however, doesn’t seem to be there.

Ben McLemore, Kansas: McLemore is a 6-4, 181-pound shooting guard. The freshman, who will turn 20 in February, is averaging 16.9 points on .543 shooting from the field, .458 on 3-pointers and .893 at the line.

A classic late bloomer who was originally an undersized power forward, McLemore has a somewhat checkered past, though no alarmingly huge red flags. He was ruled academically ineligible as a college freshman, dismissed from Oak Hill Academy for violating team rules and arrested for failing to show up for a court case involving possession of alcohol as a minor.

McLemore appears to have grown at Kansas, where he’s developed into a solid shooter. He’s also still learning the position, so there’s reason to believe the former AAU teammate of Wizards guard Bradley Beal is going to get even better.

Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller is a 7-foot, 240-pound center known to most Cavs fans as the younger — and more-talented — brother of Tyler. The sophomore, who will turn 21 in October, is averaging 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Hoosiers while shooting .627 from the field and .712 at the line.

Zeller probably has the most developed and NBA-ready game among the top big men who could make themselves available for the 2013 draft. Unlike many others, there’s almost no chance he will be a total bust.

On the flip side, there are those who fear he doesn’t have a ton of “upside” and will never be a star, so how high he’ll go in the draft could depend on whether the team picking is gambling on potential star quality or opting for a safe, productive player.

Anthony Bennett, UNLV: Bennett is a 6-7, 239-pound power forward who will turn 20 in March. The freshman is averaging 18.9 points and 8.5 rebounds at UNLV while shooting .592 from the field and .753 at the line.

Bennett is considered an explosive leaper and great finisher, especially at the college level, but he’s a bit undersized to play power forward in the NBA and lacks back-to-the-basket skills.

However, Bennett is shooting .413 from the college 3-point line while attempting 3.1 a game. He can also put the ball on the floor and is a solid mid-range shooter, so at worse he could develop into a Brandon Bass-type player in the NBA.

Alex Poythress, Kentucky: Poythress is a 6-8, 239-pound small forward/power forward who will turn 20 in September. He is averaging 14.0 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Wildcats while shooting .642 from the field, .400 on 3-pointers and .656 at the line.

Most draft experts think he’ll be able to play both forward positions in the NBA, but whether he’ll be a star at either is uncertain.

There are a number of other players — Baylor center Isaiah Austin, Kentucky shooting guard Archie Goodwin and Oklahoma State combo guard Marcus Smart among them — who could enter the conversation in the coming months, but most “experts” are calling this draft a weak one.

That won’t keep Cavs fans from talking about it, though. That and the lottery are about all they have to look forward to.

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