May 22, 2011

Options abound for the Cavaliers at #4 in the NBA Draft

What an exciting time to be a Cavaliers fan! In this draft especially, it was so crucial to get the top pick for the right to select Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, and that’s exactly what Nick Gilbert brought home for Cleveland. As many of the WFNY guys have expressed, I feel that Kyrie Irving is the clearcut number one selection. You take that selection and run to the podium with it. There are intriguing scenarios that operate on the belief that Derek Williams and either Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker will prove to be a more dominant duo than Irving and whoever the Cavaliers are able to pair him with at number four. In my opinion, those are interesting scenarios to entertain, but at the end of the day it’s Kyrie.

Another decision that makes selecting Kyrie at 1 easier is that I believe there are a pair of very intriguing centers, one of which will almost certainly be available at pick number four. While Jan Vesely, the crazy-athletic small forward from the Czech Republic, Bismack Biyombo, the Congolese big with all the tools to turn into a defensive stopper, and Kawhi Leonard, the San Diego State defender and scorer, all deserve consideration, when it’s said and done, I’m going with one of two guys. They are Jonas Valanciunas, the 6’11″ center from Lithuania and Enes Kanter, the 6’11″ center from Turkey and Kentucky Wildcat recruit.

When I look at these two draft prospects, watching film and gathering every opinion from around the web that I can, to me, it boils down to potential offense versus potential defensive greatness. Kanter is clearly the more skilled and gifted offensive big man, but I feel that Valanciunas is just as impressive with his ability to change the game on the defensive side of things.

When I look at footage of Valanciunas, this kid does not have the same sweet shooting stroke that Z had from the time we drafted him, but his body type is similar to when Z started out. What I like most about Valanciunas is his ability to defend the perimeter and his pick-and-roll ability on offense. He’s a guy that will help the pick and roll at both ends of the floor, which is huge in the NBA. On offense, his solid screen setting, athleticism to roll to the basket, skill to finish at the rim, and above-average free throw shooting all make him a threat in that regard. On defense, people have drawn comparisons to Joakim Noah, likely due to his willingness to hedge the pick and roll and his relative comfort for a big man in defending on the perimeter. Pairing him on offense with Kyrie Irving and on defense with Anderson Varejao could truly strengthen the Cavaliers on both ends right away.

Valanciunas also can rebound quite effectively. With his 7’6″ wingspan and proven ability to rebound in traffic, ripping the ball away from other players on several occasions that I saw, Jonas is not your typical soft European big. Other than that, I liked his ability to run the floor, his body language while playing, and the fact that he competed at the highest level in the European League, against skilled big men several years older than him.

Some of the drawbacks are that his arms, while long, are pencil-thin, as is his frame. He will need to add some bulk, especially if wants to be a NBA center, which I think should be his position. He is also foul prone, being called for three fouls per 15 minutes of action. I also want to see what he can do in terms of passing the ball. All of the plays I saw with Valanciunas were plays where he was finishing or attempting to finish the play. Can he be an effective passer in time? His post moves are also a concern, as most of what I saw was pretty unimaginative, with a half hook mixed in.

Then, of course, there is his contract, which has three more years on it with the Euro League team, BC Lietuvos Rytas. As Jonathan Givony of and Yahoo chronicles, there are still hurdles to clear regarding a buyout. However, if this dealbreaker-type issue is cleared up, he may be higher on some people draft boards, including the Cavaliers’ board, as our own Scott mentioned here on Thursday regarding the contract status being an issue and here this morning stating that if it’s cleared up, he would be higher on the draft board.

Then, of course, there is Enes Kanter, who some think is an even greater question mark, given his absence from organized basketball for over a year now. Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA due to playing professional ball overseas, so his time at Kentucky was mostly spent learning the English language, practicing with the UK team, and getting his education.

The things I like about Kanter, again from what little I have seen, are his toughness, his propensity to play through contact in the post, his good hands, and his post move arsenal. Enes is a big body, one that won’t be pushed around in the post, and I believe he is a true center as well. Being able to score in the post with people hanging on you and hacking is important at the next level, because you’re not going to get every call, as Shaq and Dwight Howard would vouch for. Kanter has way more options in the post than Jonas V, and he has a methodical but effective mid-range jumper. I even caught footage of him from his one year of high school ball drilling multiple three pointers.

Another positive regarding Kanter was his impressive display at the 2010 Nike Hoops Summit in Portland. Kanter scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while coming off the bench for 21 minutes and dealing with a back injury. He did this against the likes of Ohio State Buckeye Jared Sullinger and Kentucky teammate Terrence Jones. Here are some reactions that I found gathered by Kentucky columnist John Clay. That’s where Kanter turned a lot of heads, and it’s one of the most recent glimpses we have of Kanter’s game.

In the “cons” portion of my take on Kanter, I would list his period of time being away from organized basketball as well as his speed and athleticism. Overall, I think Kanter is athletic enough to man the center position effectively, but his jumping ability is limited and his speed and agility, I would say, are average at best. I’m not sure Kanter can be an impact defender either, but his offense should more than make up for it.

In the end, though, I really admire Kanter coming out and going through all of the drills at the draft combine in Chicago this week. He said repeatedly his desire is to show his game and that he has absolutely nothing to hide. For a look at the interviews from the NBA Draft Combine, check out Glenn Moore’s footage over at Dugout Sport Show. He seems like a genuinely nice, high-character guy, one that I wouldn’t mind seeing in wine and gold.

What it will come down to for Chris Grant and the Cavalier coaching and scouting staffs will be the best fit long-term. Kanter is undeniably more ready to step in now and flash his offensive skills, and you will have to wait a little longer to see Valanciunas’s full impact. If defense, rebounding, and pick and roll offense are a greater need, Valanciunas is your man. If you’re looking for more of an offensive option and a tough, physical finisher in the post, then Kanter should be the selection. I feel that the Cavaliers’ decision may in part be made by Minnesota (or a trade partner) and Utah ahead of them, and only one of these two will be there at number four. Right now, I’m leaning a little bit toward Valanciunas, but I would not be disappointed at all with Kanter.

As always, at WFNY, we will have more in the coming weeks regarding the NBA Draft, the selection at number four, and the exciting month ahead for Cavalier fans.

Options abound for the Cavaliers at #4 in the NBA Draft

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