The Cleveland Cavaliers have been bestowed a tremendous gift, their third No. 1 draft pick in the past four years, and Andrew Wiggins is the leading candidate for the franchise still trying to wrest itself from its post-LeBron James stupor.
Wiggins, after several years of hype and a single season of college hoops, remains the anointed No. 1 pick after Cleveland’s improbable leap to the top of the 2014 draft, set for June 26. The likes of experts such as ESPN’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress have Wiggins entrenched in the No. 1 spot.
Selecting Wiggins first would suddenly make the Cavaliers the most Canadian team in the NBA, with a roster featuring starting forward Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 pick in 2011, and last year’s bust of a No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett. And even if Bennett was a flop, it doesn’t taint Cleveland in turning its eyes once again northwards.
Wiggins would be a strong fit for the Cavs. The 19-year-old from the Toronto suburb of Vaughan immediately fits into their starting lineup, his athleticism and potential strongly complements the existing roster, and his modest, collegial character bolsters a team with young talent that hasn’t yet found any true cohesion.
There’s also his star power. The most celebrated young basketball player to emerge from Canada gives the Cavs a man to sell their fans as the player who will finally elevate the team from the morass in which its been stuck since James decamped for Miami. Since The Decision, the Cavs have lost more than two-thirds of their games and missed the playoffs four consecutive years.
The options beyond Wiggins, however, are intriguing. There is Joel Embiid, the 7-foot wonder from Cameroon and teammate of Wiggins at the University of Kansas, who has potential to become the rarest of NBA players, a franchise centre with tremendous mobility and a force on the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
Cleveland does not have a glaring hole at centre, but Anderson Varejao is 31. There is the murky question of Embiid’s back, injured in the winter. And his rookie NBA season would be only the fourth year of organized basketball for the 20-year-old, which makes his ability to significantly produce right away another question.
A trade is the third prominent option. No. 1 picks are not often moved, but teams are also not often bequeathed so many top picks. The Cavs have long been interested in Kevin Love, the all-star centre who wants out of Minnesota. As soon as Cleveland won the No. 1 pick, with its minuscule odds of 1.7 per cent, teams around the league started calling.
The pressure to pull off something remarkable is heavy. The Cavs shouldn’t have been in the NBA lottery at all, having had two of the past three No. 1 picks. But they botched it last year, shocking everyone by choosing Toronto’s Bennett, a way-out-of-the-box gambit that became an embarrassment.
“This pick means everything,” said NBA agent Bernie Lee.
Into the breach steps David Griffin, a rookie general manager only officially named to the job earlier this month after he became interim GM in February. His first move will be defining and it has to be one that lifts the Cavs back to the playoffs and sets them on a championship trajectory. On lottery night, he told reporters he is propelled by an urgency to “get radically better, much quicker.”
“We’ve got an awful lot of talent,” said Griffin. “And we just need to find the pieces that serve as the conduit to make it all gel for us.”
Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 phenom who would fit as a shooting guard or a small forward in the NBA, is arguably that elusive gel. In Cleveland, Wiggins could step into the starting lineup spot currently held by free agent Luol Deng, the small forward acquired from Chicago who is expected to depart this summer. Wiggins would significantly open up the floor for guard Kyrie Irving, the first of Cleveland’s recent No. 1s in 2011, and add an offensive lift and a defensive punch.
Wiggins may be the entire answer Griffin needs, a player who can make an impact as a rookie, a player who is a great teammate, and a player who can become one of the greats. It is that potential that first elevated Wiggins to the projected No. 1 pick for the 2014 draft and it is what keeps him there. It is what makes people marvel, including Bill Self, his coach at Kansas.
“He can do things you can’t coach,” said Self in an interview with The Globe in February, “His ceiling is so high.”