Somehow that multi-year addiction to the game failed to derail my education. I graduated with honors a year later and haven't looked back since. But those years were formative. They dictated who I would be and what my life would look like. They gave me an idea of what I wanted out of life.
Similarly, the 2011 NBA draft dictated the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Most of the hot debate centered around who the Cavs should take number one overall. Irving seemed to be the better overall prospect (the phrase "Chris Paul lite" was bandied about frequently) but Williams seemed to fit a bigger need.
Irving had been in and out during his college season. Turf toe limited his action to 11 games, which would be a knock against most prospects. For Irving, it was opportunistic. During that brief sample size, he was described as "near perfect." However, he was also accused of being a two guard masquerading as a point.
Irving's scouting reports most commonly listed his strengths as:
- High IQ
- Solid all-around game
- Great handle
- Efficient shooter
- Decent defender
- Shoot first mentality at times
- Lack of elite athleticism
- Turnover prone
Conversely, Derrick Williams was generally considered to be a solid number two pick. However, he was receiving a lot of attention from Cleveland because he would likely play the same position LeBron had once played.
Williams had been a surefire lottery pick until the NCAA tournament. He put on a massive performance against Irving's Duke team. In that game, Williams laid down massive numbers. He dropped 32 points on 11-17 shooting, including 5-6 from behind the arc. He sucked in 13 rebounds and sprinkled in two steals, one block and two assists. (Irving came off the bench in that game and poured in a respectable 28 point on 9-15 shooting performance. But he had only three assists. It's like he was trying to live out his scouting report.)
Williams scouting reports commonly listed his strengths as:
- Terrific pick-and-pop potential
- Much improved shooter
- Big game player, clutch
And his weaknesses:
- So-so defender
- Decent handle, needs to be improved
- Not great on the offensive glass
- So-so athleticism
Irving is now an All-Star point guard for the Cavs who has struggled with his shoot-first mentality and gelling with teammates (who probably don't like his shoot first mentality). Williams has bounced around the league, unable to find a suitable landing spot. He has shown potential as a role player but his lack of athleticism and tweener size (6'8) has kept him from ever reaching the level that many hoped when he was coming out of Arizona.
While the Cavs would eventually select Irving, the more interesting debate in retrospect is what to do with the number four pick. The Cavs wound up selected the undersized power forward from Texas, Tristan Thompson. That pick was met with some howling outrage.
I may or may not have written on my personal Facebook "Tristan Thompson? Are you fucking kidding me? This is a joke, right? This team wants to lose everything forever."
In hindsight, that was an overreaction.
That said, I'm not going to distance myself too much from what I wrote. I still believe Thompson was the wrong pick. Here is a list of players that I wanted in front of Thompson:
- Jonas Valančiūnas
- Klay Thompson
- Jimmer Fredette
- Either Morris twin
I also would have accepted any of the following:
- Kawhi Leonard
- MarShon Brooks
The Cavs needed everything at this point. They had the oft-injured Varejao and that's about it. There was no one else of repute on this team. Imagine a black hole that destroys even gravity---that was the vacuum-like Cavs roster.
And here's why I wanted who I wanted. Valenciunas had better size. I liked his fledgling post game, his movement on the blocks and his potential as a rim protector. Thompson was never going to be an elite rim guy, capable of influencing the game in the air. It just wasn't in the genetic cards for him.
With little talent on the roster, the wing was wide open. Yes, the team was going to draft Irving and slot him in at the one spot but that didn't mean there wasn't an opening at the two and three. Hell, there's still an opening at the small forward position (one that we better get filled during this draft).
Which is why I was interested in snagging a running mate for Irving. I'm not going to lie and say that I wasn't enamored with Jimmer Fredette. I had Jimmer fever. I knew he couldn't play defense. I knew that he would probably never develop a slashing game. Dat range though!
Right, we know how that worked out. I was more seriously interested in Klay Thompson though. Thompson had good 3-point range and an ability to finish creatively. He seemed to be more athletic than Jimmer and somewhat competent defensively.
MarShon Brooks fell into the Mosby's got a man crush category. His game was frequently compared to Kobe Bryant's, which was as insane as it was blindly optimistic. Brooks had some skill and some ability to finish but he was never Kobe. Still, I wanted him.
As previously enumerated, I am a Kansas fan. As such, I liked the prospects of the Morris twins. I never thought they would be All-Stars. I wasn't even sure they would be dynamite starters. Competent was the word that came to mind most frequently. Watching them go against Thompson a few times that year, I wasn't impressed with the Texas product.
Finally, the creme de la creme. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
So why did I like him so much?
Jimmer! ....that's why.
Jimmer!'s BYU teams played Leonard's San Diego State Aztecs a few times and Leonard shined. He looked great. His defense was impeccable. And he led the Aztecs to some solid wins.
I liked what I saw from the wing player. I thought he could develop into something special---given the right coach, the right system, the right surrounding players and some patience.
Given, the Cavs were probably not the ideal landing spot for Leonard who needed to be brought along slowly. That said, even if he only developed into two-thirds of what he appears poised to be---that's a damn fine player.
Instead, the Cavaliers selected Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick, a move that was considered a reach even then. Thompson has been a solid addition to the starting lineup. But his free throw shooting hasn't improved and his ability to hit face up jumpers has only seen a marginal uptick. He rebounds at a solid clip but his post moves are so-so, with him mostly relying on a running hook shot to get past bigger defenders (and almost everyone is bigger than him). He usually gets bullied by stronger post players (for example: Griffin, Blake).
The 2011 draft was a seminal moment for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a night that laid out a tumultuous path forward for this team. With the 2014 draft approaching, I think it's important to remember what the Cavs accomplished on June 23, 2011. It's also important to remember what they did wrong.
Learn from your mistakes.