The Cleveland Cavaliers hold the No. 49 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Whether it takes its chances on a risky prospect with its later choice or tries for a safer option who can contribute immediately, Cleveland will still have plenty of opportunities to look out for a diamond in the rough in the second round once the NBA Draft begins on June 22.
A flurry of college players decided to return to their respective schools by the May 31 deadline for the NCAA’s early entrants to decide whether to stay in the 2023 NBA Draft pool or withdraw. Purdue center Zach Edey, a potential prospect the Cavaliers could have looked at with their lone draft pick, chose to stay with the Boilermakers late on Wednesday.
A few of those players could have been solid fits for Cleveland in the second round.
The Illinois duo of guard Terrence Shannon Jr. and forward Coleman Hawkins returned to the Illini on Wednesday. The two played key parts in a free-flowing Illinois offense that took third place in the Big Ten with 74.3 points per game. After declaring for the draft in April, UCLA center Adem Bona announced his decision to return to the Bruins.
With the 2023 NBA Draft just about two and a half weeks away, who of the remaining players in the draft pool could the Cavs could look out for with the No. 49 pick? And how will they fit with a roster looking to push further in the NBA Playoffs after falling in a five-game series to the New York Knicks?
The Cavs need extra size and rebounding help off the bench going into the 2023 Draft and beyond.
Cleveland finished the NBA Playoffs with 37.2 rebounds and 12.4 contested rebounds, or rebounds where an opponent is within 3.5 feet of the rebounder, per game, according to NBA.com. The figures put them at second-to-last and 13th among teams that made the playoffs, respectively.
Even if he needs to spend a few years with the Cleveland Charge, Gueye has the skill set to become a reliable Cavs big for the future.
Gueye, who led Washington State in rebounds per game with 8.4 last season, chose to stay in the 2023 NBA Draft in May following his two seasons with the Cougars. He played in 68 games and started in 66 while at Washington State, earning averages of 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-11-inch forward’s season was highlighted by an 18-point, 18-rebound outing against UCLA in December. He brought down eight offensive rebounds as the Bruins took a 67-66 victory in the conference bout.
Gueye slid to the center spot during his sophomore year after forward Efe Abogidi signed with G-League Ignite and Center Dishon Jackson was taken out indefinitely with an unspecified medical issue, according to a March article from the Spokesman-Review.
“I’m not a ‘5,’ but with everything that happened, I had to play the ‘5,’ ” Gueye said, via the Spokesman-Review. “At first, I was definitely struggling, but it’s just basketball at the end of the day. In the modern game, the ‘5’ can do pretty much everything.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I’m that guy. Because Efe left and a lot of other people left, I had a big role. I showed that I can be that guy.”
No modern team can have too much wing depth.
The Cavaliers could try to add cheaper options off the bench that can provide a scoring and rebounding punch sooner rather than later. Cleveland has two small forwards, Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens, listed on Spotrac’s 2023-24 Salary Cap grid. Both are listed with non-guaranteed deals. Stevens is listed with a club option for the 2023-24 season.
The Cavs will have the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level and, if they need it, the Bi-Annual exceptions to work with when pursuing potential free agents. But, if they’re able to grab a player who can contribute right away in the second round, they can save their exceptions for more reliable options where they need them the most.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6-inch forward from Kansas State, could be a solid fit for the Cavaliers if he falls to them at No. 49. He averaged 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game during his fifth season in the NCAA and his first with Kansas State. He hit 40.5% of his 3-point attempts in his one year with the Wildcats, an improvement from the 36.5% he shot during his first year with the Florida Gators.
The Cavs will be in need of extra shooting help off the bench if they do not to bring back guard Caris LeVert or guard Danny Green.
Forward Julian Strawther, a former four-star guard and a three-year veteran with Gonzaga, improved into a reliable shooter during his three years with the Bulldogs. He went from shooting 32.1% during his freshman year to 40.8% from the 3-point line during his junior season. He showcased his shooting ability when he worked out for the Indiana Pacers last Friday.
“The main thing is showcasing my shooting,” Strawther said on what he wants to showcase throughout the workout process, via the Indy Star. “That’s what I’m known for coming out of a school.”
The 6-foot-7-inch guard averaged 15.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 37 games and starts for Gonzaga last season. He hit as many as eight 3-point shots during a January matchup against Portland, dropping 40 points as the Bulldogs took a 82-67 victory over the Pilots.
Washington State guard Justin Powell could be another option for the Cavaliers if they need to bring in more reliable shooters on a budget.
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The former 3-star recruit from Prospect, Ky., finished the 2022-23 season with a 42.6% clip from the 3-point line. He hit as many as six 3-pointers in a January game against Arizona State, ending the night with 20 points as the Cougars earned a 75-58 win over the Sun Devils. The 6-foot-6-inch guard has workouts coming up with the Chicago Bulls, Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, according to a Friday tweet from NYTSports Basketball Insider Adam Zagoria.
The Cavs still have guard Sam Merrill listed with a non-guaranteed contract that goes through the 2024-25 season. Merrill shot 44.1% from the 3-point line with the Cleveland Charge and 27.8% from beyond the arc in the five games he played for the Cavaliers last season.
Bates can be a risky but worthwhile move, even if he needs to spend a few years refining his craft.
Bates finished the 2022-23 season with averages of 19.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game during the 30 games he played for Eastern Michigan. The 6-foot-10-inch forward has workouts scheduled with Detroit, Cleveland, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Portland and Brooklyn, according to a Monday article from HoopsHype NBA writer Michael Scotto.
“In my opinion, I definitely feel like I can be one of the best players to ever play this game because I know how hard I work,” Bates said, via Scotto. “I’ve been playing against people that are going into this draft my whole life. For me, this is about getting better and stronger.
“When I get stronger, it’s going to be fun.”
Bates will have to spend a few years improving his shooting efficiency and strength before he can earn reliable minutes for the Cavs. But the former 5-star forward can be a much-needed scoring option if he is able to continue his growth with a playoff-level NBA team.
“I know he will continue to improve and mature as he continues the journey,” Eastern Michigan coach Stan Heath said in April, via ESPN. “There is no question his best basketball is ahead, and I support him on his decision.”