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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and thelandondemand.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham.
The week of the 2023 NBA Draft has arrived. Over the past five years this has been a momentous week for the Cleveland Cavaliers. There cannot be a promise that this Thursday night’s draft will be the same.
It’s worth looking into how the past few drafts have shaped the current version of the Cavaliers. There are currently three players on the roster for the Cavs that the team selected in the lottery over the last five drafts in addition to Utah guard Collin Sexton, who was part of the trade package that landed Donovan Mitchell in Cleveland last September.
Later this week we will take a look at the drafts that landed both Isaac Okoro and Evan Mobley in Cleveland, but this will focus on the 2019 NBA Draft in which the Cavaliers selected Darius Garland fifth overall.
Stars at the Top
There wasn’t any mystery as to who the first two picks were going to be. The moment that the New Orleans Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery in May, Zion Williamson could have packed his bags for the bayou. The same can be said about Ja Morant and Memphis. After that is when things started to get interesting.
Garland sliding to the fifth pick was the best-case scenario for the Cavaliers. Even if they had selected an undersized guard the year prior in Sexton, the team was at a place where it was smart to identify talent first and worry about the fit later.
Four seasons later, it’s clear that Garland was a terrific pick for the Cavs at fifth overall, but if this draft were re-done today, the chances of Garland being available in that position are relatively slim. He’s certainly had a far superior career thus far than RJ Barrett, who was selected third overall by the Knicks, and De’Andre Hunter, the fourth pick by the Atlanta Hawks.
Here’s what a re-draft of the lottery may look like today:
1. New Orleans Pelicans – Zion Williamson
Williamson hasn’t been able to stay on the court enough through his first four seasons, but when he has played he’s been transcendent. Picking him first overall is a bet that he’ll be healthier moving forward and reach his MVP-level potential.
2. Memphis Grizzlies – Ja Morant
Morant has had some off the court issues arise recently, including recently being suspended by the NBA for at least 25 games for flashing a gun on an Instagram Live video stream. If he stays out of trouble off the floor, there’s no denying the type of talent he is between the lines.
3. New York Knicks – Darius Garland
Originally, the Knicks took Barrett here in a move that made sense at the time. Barrett was overshadowed at Duke by Williamson, but he was the top prospect in the country coming out of high school for a reason. Going to Garland here certainly would have changed the way the Knicks built their roster over the past couple of seasons. Had this happened, it’s entirely possible the pairing of Garland and Mitchell is currently in NYC.
4. Atlanta Hawks – Tyler Herro
The Hawks originally picked Hunter, and he’s been fine, but a bit underwhelming. Herro’s playmaking and ability to create his own offense could have helped to take this Hawks offense with Trae Young to a level that Hunter isn’t capable of.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers – Keldon Johnson
Johnson was a very nice pick by the San Antonio Spurs near the end of the first round. He’s a 6-foot-5 wing that’s developed very nicel and could by on his way to being a future All-Star.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jordan Poole
The Wolves made a deal on draft night with the Phoenix Suns to trade up to the sixth pick with the hopes of selecting Garland. They ended up instead with Jarrett Culver, who spent this season on a two-way contract with the Atlanta Hawks and only appeared in 10 games.
7. Chicago Bulls – Cameron Johnson
Remember on draft night when Bulls’ selection Coby White was gobsmacked that his University of North Carolina teammate Cameron Johnson was selected 11th overall by the Suns? Well, in this re-draft Johnson goes in White’s place.
8. New Orleans Pelicans – Brandon Clarke
Clarke originally went 21st to Oklahoma City before being traded to Memphis. The Pelicans originally selected Jaxson Hayes here. This would certainly qualify as an upgrade.
9. Washington Wizards – PJ Washington
Washington has been a solid player on the Charlotte Hornets for the first four years of his career. He’s essentially been a better version of Rui Hachimura, who the Wizards originally took at No. 9.
10. Atlanta Hawks – Nic Claxton
Claxton was the first pick of the second round by the Brooklyn Nets originally. He’s been a terrific role player in his time in Brooklyn.
11. Phoenix Suns – Rui Hachimura
Hachimura hasn’t met expectations of a lottery pick, but did have a very nice postseason run with the Lakers this spring.
12. Charlotte Hornets – RJ Barrett
Barrett has been a disappointment as the No. 3 overall pick. The potential is still there, although the ceiling may not be as high as it was once thought of.
13. Miami Heat – Grant Williams
Williams has been a playoff hero in Boston, at times. He’s certainly outperformed the late-first round positioning he was originally taken from.
14. Boston Celtics – Terance Mann
Mann hasn’t found consistent playing time in LA with the Clippers due to a very deep team, but he’s shown flashes that he can be a higher usage player than what he’s been allowed to do on a regular basis. Just take a look at the 2021 playoffs.
Additionally, the Cavs had the 26th overall pick that was spent on Dylan Windler and the 30th overall pick that was used on Kevin Porter Jr.
The pick on Porter Jr. was a terrific job of identifying talent, although it didn’t work out in Cleveland for a number of other reasons.
In hindsight, the best move at 26th for the Cavs would have been Keldon Johnson, while the best pick at 30th may have been Nic Claxton, who went 31st.