Sources say Cleveland Cavaliers will take Joel Embiid with No. 1 Pick

joel-embiid-number-one-pickThe improbable happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers when they landed the 2014 NBA Draft’s top pick. Boasting just the ninth best odds (1.7% chance) of getting the number-one pick, the ping pong balls bounced Cleveland’s way and gave them the top selection. This is now the second straight year that they’ll be picking first on June 26th.

Last year, Cleveland didn’t do so well in the draft as they took UNLV’s Anthony Bennett number one. This was an unconventional pick, to say the least, as Bennett was already injured at the time and considered a project. He’s still widely considered a project, having averaged 4.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 35.6% shooting, and 24.5% three-point shooting. Given these numbers, Bennett could be years away from being a true NBA contributor.

Now, it’s up to new GM David Griffin to succeed where Chris Grant failed so miserably with the number-one pick. Griffin already has a huge advantage because the 2014 NBA Draft talent pool is much, much stronger than 2013’s crop. Some of the names that have been thrown around for this year’s first selection could’ve easily topped the 2013 Draft. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Jabari Parker are all potential top choices.

So who does Cleveland have their eye on with a month left before the draft? Initially, it looked like they could be leaning towards Andrew Wiggins. The 6’8″ Canadian has been on the radar of NBA scouts for the past several years and did nothing to hurt his stock with 17.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG at Kansas. Here’s a look at what ESPN’s Chad Ford wrote a few days ago:

Sources in Cleveland say that Wiggins is the likely choice. The team feels he has the most long-term potential, helps them defensively right out of the gate, can replace Dion Waiters in the starting lineup while adding character to the team.

Interestingly enough, though, Wiggins figures to get some heavy competition from his Jayhawks teammate, Joel Embiid (11.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG). The 7-footer really impressed scouts during a workout hosted by the L.A. Clippers. Embiid was so impressive, in fact, that he quickly made Ford change his tune regarding who’s going number one. Here’s a look at what three different writers had to say on the matter:

 joel-embiid-number-one-pick-1Ford – Embiid quickly re-asserting claim to # 1 pick here. Added muscle, still has quick feet & a beautiful jumper. No evidence of back issues. Just spoke with Embiid. Told me his back is 100 percent. Been working out hard for last 3 weeks. Embiid said he’s gained 15 pounds. Up to 265. Still getting back into shape. Got a bit winded in workout but still looked quick & explosive.

Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports – Watching Joel Embiid in workout for league executives in Santa Monica. Impossible to imagine passing on him at No. 1.

Adam Zagoria, SNY.tv – “I did not see any issues with his back,” one veteran NBA scout on hand at the workout told SNY.tv. “He looked very agile and athletic.”

“He looks great,” a second scout said. “Running, jumping, dunking, bent up like a pretzel in warmups and stretching exercises. Had two ex-NBA bigs [Brian Scalabrine and Will Perdue] banging on him underneath. He passed the eyeball test big time. Move him up. “He helped himself today.”

Cleveland already has some good pieces in place to make themselves a playoff-caliber basketball team. And adding a super-talented big man like Embiid could give them the missing piece to become a postseason lock in the East. But then again, so could adding a shooting guard like Wiggins, who already seems NBA-ready. Likewise, many scouts believe that Parker (19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG) will also make an immediate impact at the next level.

Another option for Cleveland would be trading their top pick. Since the Cavaliers already have enough young talent in Kyrie Irving, Waiters and Tristan Thompson, they would do well to add a veteran All-Star to the mix. But like the three writers above mentioned, Embiid’s talent and potential may be too much to pass up on.

Will Andrew Wiggins be an NBA Star Right Away?

will-andrew-wiggins-be-starThis week marked what many considered the inevitable when Kansas Jayhawks freshman Andrew Wiggins declared himself eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft. A little over a year ago, Wiggins was the man, the myth, the Canadian legend whom most scouts thought was a lock to be taken number one overall in the 2014 Draft. A 6’8″, do-it-all forward with a 44-inch vertical leap, a 7-foot wingspan and tremendous all-around athleticism, it wasn’t hard to see why scouts were sky-high on him. Now, things are a little different…

We emphasize “little” here because Wiggins is still a lock to be a top-three pick this summer. He also didn’t do anything to hurt his stock at Kansas after leading the talented Jayhawks team with 17.1 PPG. He also chipped in 5.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG and 1.0 BPG for a school that finished 25-10 and grabbed the Big 12 title.

His main competition for the top overall choice is Kansas teammate Joel Embiid and Duke freshman Jabari Parker. Some analysts see Embiid as a potential franchise center since he’s got the size (7’0″, 250 pounds) and college numbers (11.2PPG, 8.1RPG, 2.6BPG) that NBA teams like to see. Given his upside, Embiid will be hard to pass up for whoever wins the ping pong ball lottery.

Parker might be even harder to pass on because, much like Wiggins, he’s already the complete package. The 6’8″ combo forward was truly all over the court for Duke this year, as he averaged 19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG and shot 35.8% from the three-point line. Going beyond the numbers, what many scouts love about Parker is his killer instinct, much like Kobe or MJ.

will-andrew-wiggins-be-star-1So it looks like Wiggins will definitely have some competition with regard to being picked number one overall. But no matter whether he’s picked first, second or third, he is going to be a very good player. And our question is this: will he be an All-Star right out of the gate?

We already discussed how freakishly athletic Wiggins is. Based on pure athleticism (i.e. run, jump, quickness), he’s quite possibly be the most talented basketball player on the planet. He has the ability to defend multiple positions, runs like a gazelle and is excellent at finishing in transition.

On the downside, Wiggins’ killer instinct and basketball passion have often been called into question. This is what essentially took him from a guaranteed top pick to somebody who could go 1-3. It’s also what saw him end his college career with a nightmare 1-for-6, four-point performance against Stanford in Kansas’ second-round exit from the tourney. Those analyzing Wiggins saw a guy floating around the perimeter against the Stanford zone defense, rather than attacking it and making something happen in the paint.

But are we to take one terrible college game and use it to foreshadow Wiggins’ future. Not according to Kansas coach Bill Self, who had the following to say about his star:

I think the improvement he made this year with his approach and mindset was a great, great improvement. If you look at his statistics and everything, and you look at the games in which we labored for the most part or games which were narrow victories, he always seemed to produce more. He is one of those guys that if the team didn’t have to have him do it, he, a lot of times, deferred to let others do it. But at game point, usually, he was right there.

Self isn’t just full of empty words here because the stats back up what he says. During the Jayhawks’ 25 wins, Wiggins took 11.8 shots and 5.7 free throws while scoring 16.8 PPG. In the team’s 10 losses, he attempted 13.3 shots and 9.4 free throws while scoring 17.7 PPG. Case in point, he is a selfless player who tries to take over when his team is struggling. And this was on a Kansas team that was loaded with plenty of other great players.

As for those who still question Wiggins’ work ethic and drive to improve, perhaps they should listen to the future star himself. “No one’s game is perfect, I have a lot of things to work on,” he said. “There’s strength, ballhandling and shooting, just trying to perfect everything for next season.”

andrew-wiggins-not-number-one-1Wiggins added, “I think I improved a lot. There was never really a non-competitive practice we had, every practice every player would go at each other a lot, making each other better.”

Judging from his underrated competitiveness, freaky talent and versatility, we think that Wiggins definitely has the potential to be an All-Star in his first season. Of course, it will greatly help his cause if he’s paired with another talented player or two to start off with. This would take some of the pressure off of Wiggins and allow him to avoid forcing bad shots and trying to carry a team.

The cupboard is pretty bare in Milwaukee (14-60), which currently owns the NBA’s worst record. But if Wiggins were to land in Philadelphia (16-58), he could play with Michael Carter-Williams. Being picked by the Orlando Magic (21-53) would allow him to play with Victor Oladipo.

In any case, it’ll be fun to see where Wiggins ends up and if he can make the lucky lottery team that picks him into a playoff contender. Our bet is yes.

Dayton: Busting Brackets and Bettors with Sweet Sixteen Appearance

dayton-flyers-basketballWhen the 2014 NCAA Tournament field was finalized, few people paid much attention to Dayton, a ho-hum 11th seed with no discernible star players. Most March Madness bettors and fans filling out brackets didn’t think that the Flyers would even stand a chance against their in-state rivals Ohio State – let alone their second-round matchup against Syracuse.

But after surviving a last-second shot for the second time in a row, Dayton is now the first Cinderella team in the Sweet Sixteen. And we’ll be quite honest, we totally missed the boat on Dayton in our notable Cinderella picks. Sure, this was a quality team that came into the tournament with a 23-10 overall record and a 10-6 mark in the fairly tough Atlantic 10 Conference (tied for fifth). But if somebody were going to emerge as a postseason favorite, you’d expect it to be Saint Louis (26-6) or VCU (26-8) – both teams that are already done.

The truth is that Dayton now carries the banner for the A-10, and they may represent the Cinderellas’ last hope if 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin doesn’t knock off UCLA later today. So just what is it that has helped the Flyers succeed where other longshots have failed?

For starters, this squad is used to dealing with close, high-pressure games – an excellent quality to have during March Madness. They battled in 10 games during the regular season/A-10 Tournament that were decided by 5 points or less. So it should be little surprise that their first two victories in the NCAA Tournament have been decided by a collective three points.

dayton-flyers-basketball-1The first win over Ohio State was especially dramatic, with Vee Sanford beating Aaron Craft off the dribble for a go-ahead basket with 3.8 seconds left. This gave Craft just enough time to storm down the court for a game-winning rebuttal, however, his shot rattled out. Few could’ve predicted that the Buckeyes, a team with so much tournament success over the past few years, would be toppled by their lesser-known neighbors to the southwest.

Most expected this nice little run to end when Dayton matched up with a more-vaunted opponent in Syracuse. The Orange started the season by running out to a 25-0 record and achieving the nation’s number-one ranking, before stumbling and losing five out of their last seven games prior to March Madness. But with two mid-major opponents out in front of them in Western Michigan and Dayton, it looked like Syracuse could salvage a once-promising season and still make the Sweet Sixteen.

Perhaps they underestimated Dayton’s swarming team defense, which forced the Orange into plenty of bad shots yesterday. To be fair, Syracuse also shot themselves in the foot, shooting under 40% from the field, which was a common theme in all six of their losses down the season stretch. Their two stars, CJ Fair and freshman Tyler Ennis, were held to a combined 11-of-35 (31.4%) from the field.

Another telling stat is that the Orange missed all 10 of their three-point attempts. None of these missed attempts hurt more than Ennis’ last-second three, which clanged off the back of the iron, ending Syracuse’s season with a whimper.

dayton-flyers-basketball-2Contrast this to Dayton, who made several clutch three-pointers down the stretch, connecting on 7-of-16 shots (43.8%) from behind the arc. Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert was especially instrumental in this department as he made three-of-eight shots from downtown. Dyshawn Pierre also came up big by leading a balanced scoring effort with 14 points.

Now, the Flyers wait to see who they’ll play next week as 10th-seeded Stanford and 2nd-seeded Kansas face off. Both of these teams are very good, but you can bet that Dayton would pick the 22-12 Cardinals as opponents, rather than Kansas’ trio of freshman stars – Andrew Wiggins (17.4PPG, 5.9RPG), Joel Embid (11.2PPG, 8.1RPG) and Wayne Seldon Jr. (9.9PPG, 2.7RPG). Embid is currently out with a stress fracture in his back, but could return to action next week. If he can’t go, Kansas still has another tough post player in sophomore Perry Ellis (13.6PPG, 6.6RPG) to contend with.

Assuming Stanford can pull off the upset, Dayton would have to play a very experienced team, lead by junior guard Chasson Randle (18.9PPG, 3.5RPG). He’s teamed up with senior postman Dwight Powell (13.9PPG, 6.8RPG), junior swingman Anthony Brown (12.0PPG, 5.0RPG) and senior forward Josh Huestis (11.3PPG, 8.2RPG).

Regardless of whom Dayton plays, you can bet that they’ll bring the same fire they had in the first two rounds. This squad is extremely balanced, as you can see from their leading scorers, Sibert (12.4PPG), Devin Oliver (11.9PPG), Pierre (11.2PPG) and Vee (9.9PPG). They also shoot the three very well at a 37.6% clip and feature a pretty experienced starting lineup. So whether it’s Kansas or Stanford that wins today, they also have something to fear in regard to their Sweet 16 opponent.

Andrew Wiggins not No. 1 Pick? Julius Randle, Others factor in

andrew-wiggins-not-number-oneThe 2013-14 NBA Season is one that’s expected to see several teams tank just to have a chance at Andrew Wiggins. For the past two years, NBA clubs have been salivating at the prospect of landing the number one pick and grabbing the 6’8″, do-it-all forward. But is Wiggins really the first true slam-dunk number one pick since LeBron James?

Most teams are convinced so, but others have their doubts when it comes to his on-court efforts. “Until Wiggins learns how to play hard,” said an anonymous NBA scout, “he’s Kansas’ third-best freshman.” Another long-time scout said, “Wiggins has been advertised pretty high. Is he that good? The jury is still out.”

Okay, so this isn’t the general consensus by all NBA GM’s and scouts, but it is enough to consider opening up the discussion that Wiggins may not go first overall. The 2014 NBA Draft class is loaded with talent and several other players who, in a different year, might easily be the top pick. 6’9″ Kentucky freshman Julius Randle is one player who immediately comes to mind. According to DraftExpress, he’s the predicted number two pick behind Wiggins. So it’s not unfathomable to think that, with an excellent college season, Randle could leap up to the top pick.

Other players who could sway GMs’ minds include Australian combo guard Dante Exum, Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart. Even Wiggins’ fellow Kansas frosh teammates, 7-footer Joel Embiid and guard Wayne Selden, could factor into the number-one pick debate.

andrew-wiggins-not-number-one-1An NBA scout discussed several of these players by saying, “Julius Randle is the real deal. Jabari Parker is really good. Dante Exum, he was super impressive at the Hoop Summit at practice and is smooth and can shoot it. Marcus Smart, if a team needs a point guard, he can be a high pick, too. This upcoming draft class is outstanding.”

Despite these glowing reviews of other players, some teams are still fixated on Wiggins. His talent first shined through back at the 2012 Hoop Summit, when the Toronto native dominated an exhibition between the World Team and United States. Wiggins scored 20 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked two shots against the US team, which included Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel.

As alluded to before, many people around the league have compared Wiggins’ potential impact to LeBron. Other scouts believe that, in the “worst-case scenario,” he’d be similar to Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter. In any of these scenarios, the Canadian still would be an outstanding, All-Star-caliber player who has a great career.

Beyond simple comparisons, the league loves Wiggins’ athleticism and upside. His dad, Michael Wiggins, played in the NBA while his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a track star for Canada. He’s also considered to be a solid citizen who doesn’t get into trouble off of the court.

Still, Andrew Wiggins isn’t the once-thought guaranteed number one selection that many thought previously. The biggest scare is his ability to continually stay motivated and play hard. This could be the main thing that keeps him from ascending to a LeBron James, or flaming out amidst the hype, like Omar Cook and Sebastian Telfair did.

Canada: A Budding International Basketball Powerhouse

andrew-wiggins-nbaThroughout the history of international basketball competitions, Canada hasn’t exactly shined. While their American neighbors to the south have won 14 Olympic gold medals, Canada has managed just one – a sliver medal in the 1936 Olympics.

Now this isn’t to say that the Great White North has been the basketball world’s doormat. After all, they did produce 2-time NBA MVP Steve Nash along with role players like Todd MacCulloch and Samuel Dalembert. However, there just haven’t been enough talented players to bring Canada to any sort of international prominence.

But it looks like Canadians might soon have something to celebrate from a basketball perspective, based on several young players. For starters, Toronto lays claim to Andrew Wiggins, who’s the most coveted pro prospect since LeBron James. The 6’8″ small forward, who’s currently playing for West Virginia’s Huntington Prep, is the biggest reason why several teams wouldn’t mind tanking the 2013-2014 NBA season.

McDonalds All American Game- Powerade JamfestThe first thing that jumps out about Wiggins is his insane athleticism, which comes naturally when you consider his parents. Mitchell Wiggins was a former NBA player while Marita was an Olympic silver medalist. So it’s no wonder why the 18-year-old can sky over other players (44-inch vertical) and blow past his opponents with unparalleled quickness. Adding his excellent on-court skills into the equation, Wiggins is all but guaranteed to be the top pick when he finishes his freshman season at Kansas next year.

Of course, you can’t experience Olympic success without a team – especially when competing against the stacked Team USA. Luckily Wiggins has a nice future sidekick in Anthony Bennett, who recently became the first Canadian-born player to go number one overall in the NBA Draft.

Now it’s worth mentioning that Bennett was a surprise number one pick who’s not guaranteed stardom. However, the Cavaliers thought enough of the 6’7″ combo forward’s outside shooting, scoring ability and rebounding to take him with the top pick.

tristan-thompsonNext up is Bennett’s Cavaliers teammate, Tristan Thompson. These two players are a very interesting story because they grew up a mile away from each other in Toronto and went to the same US-based high school, Findlay Prep (Nevada), though not at the same time. In his second NBA season, Thompson put up very solid numbers after averaging 11.7 PPG and 9.4 RPG. The 6’8″ power forward will definitely give Team Canada a strong inside presence come Olympics time.

Another player who figures to star on the international stage is Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk. The British Columbia product starred for Gonzaga after posting averages of 17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 1.1 BPG last year. The 7-footer also showed some outside touch after shooting 44% and 30% from the 3-point line in his two collegiate seasons.

kelly-olynykDespite questions about how his game would translate to the NBA, Olynyk has silenced the critics thus far with a very strong summer league performance. And if he keeps playing like this, he’ll no doubt have a good career in both the NBA and on the international stage.

Cory Joseph is one more Canadian who shows a lot of promise. The 6’3″ San Antonio Spurs guard improved quite a bit from his dismal rookie season to last year’s NBA Finals run. He averaged 4.5 PPG, 1.9 APG and shot 85.7% from the free-throw line in his second year.

There’s definitely plenty of reason to get excited about Canadian basketball in the future. Sure the Olympics are three years away, but the FIBA Basketball World Cup is coming up in 2014. Canada has never won a medal in this competition, which takes place every four years. But based on all of the young talent that the Great White North has coming up through the ranks, they’re certainly ready to challenge current powerhouses like the United States, Argentina, Greece and Spain next year.