NBA Draft: Duke's Irving expected to go first
By Brian Mahoney
NEW YORK — Just in case the Cleveland Cavaliers need it, here’s some advice for what to do with those two high picks.
Take Kyrie Irving first, grab Turkish big man Enes Kanter fourth, and start enjoying the postseason success you used to have when LeBron James was around.
“If I play with Kyrie, I believe we can make playoffs,” Kanter said Wednesday. “I know we can make playoffs.”
Or instead, pass on Irving and go with Arizona’s Derrick Williams, who can play inside or out, either forward spot, and would bring the mixture of power and athleticism back to your frontcourt that was lost when James left.
“I feel like I am the most overall ready in this spot by my size and ready to make an impact,” Williams said.
Even in what’s considered a less-than-stellar NBA draft, the Cavaliers have plenty of options tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., when they become the first team since the 1983 Houston Rockets with two picks in the top four.
They’re expected to start with Irving, considered the favorite since the Cavaliers won the lottery last month. Though the Duke point guard played just 11 games during his freshman season because of a toe injury on his right foot, the numbers he put in his limited time seem too good to pass up.
“It definitely feels good, you know, knowing that I’m still projected to go No. 1,” Irving said. “We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, but it’s an honor to be at the No. 1 spot right now.”
The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 17.5 points while shooting 53 percent from the floor, 46 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line. He returned from his injury in time to play in the NCAA tournament — where his Blue Devils were overwhelmed by Williams in Arizona’s round of 16 victory — and he said that proves there should be no question about his health.
“Playing in the NCAA tournament was the deciding factor for me,” Irving said. “If I didn’t play in the NCAA tournament, I would have been back at Duke for my sophomore season. I just wanted to kind of limit all the questions on my health and durability.”
The Cavaliers also pick fourth — the No. 1 pick was acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers last season in the Baron Davis trade — giving them the ability to add a big man, perhaps Kanter or another from the lengthy list of Europeans available.
They were still weighing their options as of Wednesday afternoon with their first No. 1 pick since taking James in 2003.
“They’re keeping their cards closely, as they should, and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow night,” Irving said.
Minnesota holds the No. 2 pick and seems open to dealing it. Utah has Nos. 3 and 12, the latter potentially putting the Jazz in the difficult position of deciding whether they want to keep BYU star Jimmer Fredette in state.
Fredette led the nation with 28.9 points per game and was honored by The Associated Press and nearly other organization that gives out a player of the year award. But he is perhaps the most scrutinized player in this draft full of question marks, with doubts over whether he has the quickness to get his shot off in the NBA or defend the much quicker guards he will face on a nightly basis.
Not to worry. Fredette says during his carefully devised workout schedule — he performed for only Utah, Sacramento, Indiana, New York and Phoenix — he gained confidence that his game will translate.
“I learned that I’m a very confident guy and that I can play against anyone,” Fredette said. “I feel like I can play all the guys out there, played against some of the toughest athletes and players that are guards in this draft. So it took away confidence and knowing that I can play in this league.”
The criticism of the draft’s strength is due largely to the NBA’s uncertain labor situation. With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire June 30 and owners and players far apart on a new deal, the possibility of a lockout and a shortened or canceled 2011-12 season remains.
Many of the players Wednesday were asked what they would do if their rookie seasons were placed on hold, but some likely lottery picks decided not to take the chance. Freshmen Harrison Barnes of North Carolina and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State are among the likely top-five selections who opted to stay in school.
So some guys who would have gone lower could end up in the top 10, but the players dismiss talk of a weak draft.
“If it’s weak, then hopefully I should go higher,” said Kemba Walker, who led Connecticut to the national championship.
“I think it’s a great draft class, honestly,” Walker added, while saying it’s not like the 2003 class that put James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the top five.
Walker and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight rank behind Irving on the list of available point guards. Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas are among the bigger options in a draft that could see the most Europeans taken in the first round since a record nine went in 2003.
Questions remained in the final hours before the draft. Potential lottery picks Marcus Morris of Kansas, Chris Singleton of Florida State and Klay Thompson of Washington State were unable to be in New York on Wednesday because they were still working out for other teams.
But Irving has no doubts about himself.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t pay attention to what people are saying about this draft. I really am confident in this draft class in that we’re all achieving our dreams. This is something a lot of people don’t get to experience.”