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Cheap Seats: Who Should Go No. 1?

Who should be the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft? Basketball Insiders’ interns give their thoughts.

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In this week’s Cheap Seats, our interns Jesse Blancarte, John Zitzler and Cody Taylor discuss who should be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft when the Cleveland Cavaliers go on the clock.

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins has had a lot of hype surrounding him for several years now, often drawing comparisons to LeBron James. Wiggins was under the microscope in his one and only season at Kansas, which ended with a disappointing loss in the Round of 32 to Stanford.

Wiggins put up 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals, one block and 2.3 turnovers per game. He shot 44.8 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from beyond the arc and 77 percent from the free throw line. While his statistics do not remind anyone of LeBron James, Wiggins showed flashes of why he is so highly regarded among talent evaluators, such as when he scored 41 points against West Virginia on March 8.

Wiggins has good shooting mechanics, despite his inconsistent results. He can knock down set shots and shots off the dribble, though he often settles for difficult jumpers to avoid contact. Nevertheless, with more time and practice, it looks like Wiggins will be a very good shooter in the future.

Wiggins is also great in transition. He uses his athleticism and long strides to outpace his opponents for easy finishes at the rim. However, in half court situations, Wiggins is not as effective with the ball, as he struggles to change directions quickly. This in part explains why Wiggins will often settle for a long two-pointer, rather than trying to use his athleticism to get by defenders. As his ball-handling improves, hopefully his assertiveness will too. Too often Wiggins seemed complacent, playing within the team structure as opposed to taking a game over himself when the situation called for it. To be fair, LeBron was criticized early on in his career for being too unselfish and looking to setup teammates for clutch shots. At just 19, Wiggins has time to continue developing his offensive game, which will hopefully lead to increased confidence, allowing him to take over games when his team needs it.

On the defensive end, Wiggins showed throughout his freshmen season that he has all the physical tools and instincts to be a lockdown defender. A good comparison for Wiggins is Paul George. Both players have the physical tools to be great wing defenders, but more importantly, both players have the desire to be great defensive players. As Wiggins adds more muscle to his frame, he will be able to guard bigger players as well, which will make him one of the best two-way players in the NBA.

With that said, Wiggins is facing tough competition for the number one spot in the draft. Jabari Parker is another talented forward who could potentially go number one, and many believe he is more ready to contribute in the NBA than Wiggins. Parker can score in a variety of ways, has a bigger frame than Wiggins and can potentially play as a small-ball four. However, the Cavaliers are not a fringe championship contender that is one piece away from winning it all. Instead, they are a team with a collection of young, talented players that need to grow together. While a player like Parker can be a part of such a core, it does not make sense to pass on a player with seemingly unlimited potential—like Wiggins— for a player that may put up slightly better stats in his rookie season, but does not have the same upside.

Similarly, Joel Embiid is another player that many believe could go number one. However, the Cavaliers in recent drafts have made some questionable picks (passing on players like Klay Thompson, Andre Drummond and Victor Oladipo) and need to get this one right. Embiid is a gifted big man, but sat out a number of games late in the season with a stress fracture in his back. While recent reports suggest that the back issues are cleared up, it would be a terrible scenario for Embiid to suffer major health issues while players like Wiggins and Parker are emerging as the future stars of the NBA. Embiid is a special talent, but there are many examples of big men being plagued by injuries, such as Bill Walton, Yao Ming and Greg Oden, just to name a few.

The Cavs are both fortunate and unfortunate. They are fortunate to have the first pick in a very talented draft, but will be picking first for the third time in four years. After another season missing the playoffs, recently firing former head coach Mike Brown (for the second time) and unexpectedly winning the lottery, the Cavs are under a lot of scrutiny around the league. If they mess this pick up, it will be something that others will be very critical of. Fortunately, the Cavs are picking from a crop of very talented players. But none of them have the star potential that Wiggins has. He may not be LeBron James, but he doesn’t really need to be. With Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett, the Cavs have plenty of young talent to build around. Rather than waiting around hoping for LeBron to come back, it’s time for the Cavs to move forward, with Wiggins as the lead man.

– Jesse Blancarte

Jabari Parker

After striking out terribly in last year’s draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers desperately need to take full advantage of this year’s draft class. After miraculously landing the top pick in the draft, the Cavaliers must draft Jabari Parker. The Cavaliers are in need of a rim protector, but given Joel Embiid’s health history, can the Cavs afford to gamble on another top pick? Parker is arguably the safest bet among Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, and the Cavaliers are in need of the safest bet out there. The team can’t afford to have another overall pick play in just 52 games while averaging less than five points a game like they had in Anthony Bennett last season.

The Cavaliers struggled all season long with offensive efficiency and finished just inside the top 25 in the league in that category. A player like Parker that averaged 19.1 points in his freshman year at Duke can almost certainly step in and provide a big-time scoring punch. Parker was an efficient and effective scorer while at Duke and that’s a skill that goes far with scouts and executives in the NBA. In addition to his 19.1 points, Parker shot 47.3 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from three-point range. The Cavaliers will likely lose Luol Deng to free agency and Parker would be the most capable out of Wiggins and Embiid to replace Deng’s 14.3 points per game in Cleveland.

At this point for the Cavaliers, Parker would be the best option to allow them to compete now. While a pick like Wiggins would be made with the hopes of him developing into a star within a couple of years, that may be too long to keep Kyrie Irving happy. Although Irving hasn’t publicly come out against staying in Cleveland long-term, there have been reports stating that he has told people privately that he wants out.

It’s a growing trend in the league when a star player is disgruntled. Does the team trade that player away to get some sort of value or do they keep him in hopes that he’ll stay long-term and risk losing him for nothing? It’s a path the Denver Nuggets have been down with Carmelo Anthony, a path the Orlando Magic went down with Dwight Howard and it’s a path the Minnesota Timberwolves currently find themselves on with Kevin Love. It’s hard to speculate which player will go number one, especially with the Cavaliers, but a player that will equal the most wins would likely be the best option at keeping Irving content.

The knocks against Parker are well-documented, but improving on the defensive side of the ball is something that can be practiced and worked on. The knocks against Wiggins and Embiid could be viewed as worse. The major factor helping Wiggins in the draft is that in five years he could be an elite player based off of potential, but potential isn’t guaranteed. Parker is the most pro-ready and should be taken with the top overall pick. Only the Cavaliers can mess it up from here.

– Cody Taylor

Joel Embiid

The top of the 2014 draft has a number of young prospects who possess the talent to change the direction of a franchise. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were both known commodities before they ever stepped foot on a college campus. Wiggins’ high school mixtapes left basketball fans in awe, showing off raw athleticism that is on par with some of the NBA’s elite. The expectations for Wiggins were impossibly high in his one year at Kansas. While he may not have dominated in the fashion some desired, he was able to solidify himself as one of the top prospects in this year’s draft. Parker similarly in his one season at Duke showed he already possesses a versatile offensive arsenal, one that should translate to the NBA from day one. Like Wiggins, Parker answered any questions doubters may have had and put himself into the mix to be one of the top three picks.

Both Wiggins and Parker look to have the potential to be great players at the next level, guys that could lead franchises for years to come. However, there is one player who has a combination of size and skill that is not often seen. A player that if he remains healthy and develops as projected will almost certainly be a dominating force on both sides of the ball. The type of big man coaches dream about. That man, of course being, former Kansas center Joel Embiid.

Embiid, who measures a legitimate 7’0 and is right around 250 pounds, has prototypical size for a center in the NBA. Add to that a 7’5 wingspan and it’s not hard to see why there is so much intrigue surrounding him. Any player with those physical attributes is going to garner attention from scouts on that alone. But it’s Embiid’s skill set, in addition to his size, that has NBA executives captivated with his potential.

On the defensive end, Embiid should be able to have a significant impact from the moment he steps foot onto an NBA court. In his one season at Kansas, Embiid was able average to 2.6 blocks per game in just over 24 minutes a night and that obviously doesn’t take into account the number of shots deterred by his presence alone. He was able to use his massive frame to make finishing around the rim a monumental task for the opposition. While he does have great size, that isn’t the only reason he is strong defender; he does a nice job moving his feet and getting himself into good position in both help defense situations and in one on one matchups. Right now, Roy Hibbert is the standard in the NBA when talking about interior defense. When you watch Embiid, it’s easy to envision how he could have a similar impact defensively at the next level.

Offensively, Embiid is surprisingly skilled for a player of his size and inexperience. Embiid reportedly only began playing basketball in 2011. A remarkable fact for a player who is now firmly in the conversation to the first pick in the draft. Embiid possesses a nice touch around the rim and has the ability to finish with either hand. He shows great poise when double teamed, often times making the proper pass to an open teammate even when under great pressure from the defense. He has displayed post moves that have drawn comparisons to former NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon. He’s still raw, but it’s more than evident that the talent is there.

There is one major caveat surrounding Embiid, and that of course is his health. The long-term forecast for his back may scare some teams. This is the only thing that is seemingly holding him back from being a lock to be drafted number one. He was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back in March, which kept him from playing in the Big 12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Embiid will go through extensive medical testing by any team that is considering drafting the promising center.

However, video of Embiid working out in Santa Monica recently surfaced and it was encouraging, to say the least. He looked fluid in his movement and threw down dunk after dunk with authority. This was just a solo workout absent of any competition so it must taken with a grain of salt, but it definitely created some buzz and was a step in the right direction in terms proving his health.

Embiid has the physical attributes that longtime NBA personnel marvel at. His potential to not only impact but dominate the game on both sides of the floor is beyond rare. He has the chance to grow into one of the better big men this league has seen in some time. If he can develop to the level that many are projecting, it would be flat out irresponsible to go in any other direction with the number one pick. If his back checks out, Joel Embiid is the best prospect in this draft and deserves to be selected first overall.

– John Zitzler

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