Joel Embiid had it all – size, skills, athleticism and upside.
Unfortunately, it’s never that easy in Cleveland.
With Embiid injured, the Cavaliers’ options for the No. 1 pick likely come down to Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
They could always take a flier on Dante Exum, or given how they’ve operated the last couple years, someone like Aaron Gordon. Maybe they could even still draft Embiid.
But all logic says Wiggins and Parker are the only two reasonable candidates, and the sudden shakeup makes the debate between the two – once with the No. 2 pick on the line – all the more intriguing.
It’s been easy for top-selecting teams to hide behind positional need to justify their selections. Players of the same position haven’t gone 1-2 in the draft in eight years, since the Raptors took PF Andrea Bargnani No. 1 and PF LaMarcus Aldridge followed at No. 2 in 2006.
Wiggins and Parker are heavy favorites to end that trend with the Bucks taking the one the Cavs don’t. Though Wiggins falls more toward a 2/3 and Parker a 3/4, both are essentially small forwards.
Here’s how the major sites rank them right now:
Wiggins definitely holds a perceived edge. He possesses elite athletic traits – from his lengthy wingspan to his ridiculous vertical. He must become more aggressive and a better ball-handler to capitalize offensively, but his defense – while it comes and goes – looks excellent at times.
Parker can score from anywhere on the court, and he has the dribbling ability to get anywhere. He’s a willing passer with as diverse of an offensive skillset as you’ll find in a one-and-done player. His lack of lateral quickness leaves him a limited defender, though.
If you notice, there’s no discussion of fit here. For one, Wiggins and Parker share similar enough profiles.
More importantly, it doesn’t matter.
The Cavaliers won 33 games last year. They should not worry about how a player fits into a roster that should change significantly.
Only Kyrie Irving would make me even hesitate about positional overlap, but if the best prospect were a point guard, I’d still probably pick him and roll with two-point guard lineups – an underutilized weapon – and sort it out later. Conveniently for Cleveland, the only point guard even in the periphery of the discussion, Exum, could easily play the two.
In terms of what they bring to any team, looking at a player’s track record is a great place to start.
With minimal room to argue, Parker was better in college last season. He made every major All-American first team while Wiggins made all the second teams.
Even if we knew Parker was more likely than Wiggins to become the better player, that alone wouldn’t make Parker the clearly better draft choice.
If Wiggins has a higher ceiling – even with lower odds of reaching it – that matters. Superstars drive the NBA, and it might be better to swing at the fences for one rather than taking the dependable line-drive double.
I’m just not convinced that line of thinking matters in this case.
Why is everyone so convinced a 19-year-old Parker is so much more of a finished product than a 19-year-old Wiggins?
Wiggins entered school as the consensus No. 1 pick, and though we have 35 more games to analyze, I believe that label still colors perception of Wiggins. People look for reasons to justify his early project as No. 1 pick. Parker, an elite prospect coming out of high school himself, doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt.
Nothing indicates potential more than age, and less than a month separates the two. Wiggins’ athleticism give him an upside advantage, but without an age discrepancy also significantly in his favor, Wiggins’ upside advantage has been overstated.
That’s evident in the statistical ratings produced by Kevin Pelton of ESPN, the foremost public statistical draft ratings now that John Hollinger works for the Grizzlies. Pelton’ system features age prominently – in addition to pre-NBA production – in the equation.
And that’s why drafting Wiggins No. 1 is so unnerving. I might do it, but it would scare me.
|Year||No. 1 pick||WARP rank|
I’m always most comfortable when the analytics match my eye test.
It’s not about taking the player statistics rate No. 1 – Marcus Smart for Pelton this year, by the way. It’s about using all methods of evaluation to reach a conclusion.
Like Wiggins, Parker passes the eye test, though perhaps not as effortlessly. But Parker ranks No. 7 in Pelton’s system, substantially higher than Wiggins.
That’s the case in other statistical models. Counting The Baskets places Parker No. 3 and Wiggins No. 19. Jacob Frankel has Parker No. 6 and Wiggins No. 13. Layne Vashro put Parker No. 8 and Wiggins No. 10, and Basketball Analytics ranks Parker No. 1 and Wiggins No. 3, but going by score rather than rank shows pretty substantial gaps between Parker and Wiggins in those two formulas.
Still, that some analytical methods place Wiggins so high certainly eases some of the worry of drafting him.
Simply, it’s an intriguing debate.
My gut says Wiggins. My head says Parker.
I’ve tried to train myself to follow my head over my gut – and usually I do – but it’s not easy. Wiggins is so tempting.
If I were the Cavaliers, I’d take Parker No. 1 and never look back look back constantly in fear of Wiggins becoming the better pro.