A few years after the 2020 NBA Draft, one that saw the Cleveland Cavaliers earn their second of three-straight top 5 draft picks, Cleveland clinched a spot in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers took a 108-91 win over the Houston Rockets in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, which saw Cleveland’s starters shine on home court as they combined for 86 of the Cavs’ 108 points. Cleveland’s starting lineup featured all three top-5 selections from 2019-21.
“Not everyone gets that shot,” said Cavs forward Evan Mobley, who was taken with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. “Not everyone gets on teams and have camaraderie like we do, how we play together, everything. Just got to keep that going.”
Cleveland’s streak of selecting in the first round will likely end this year. The Cavs do not have a first-round pick in the 2023 draft. They do hold the No. 49 pick. Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor wrote the Cavs could be looking to trade into the first round of this year’s NBA Draft in a late-Wednesday article.
“While members of the front office and scouting staff like that position and believe there will be a compelling, young draft-and-develop prospect late in the second round, there’s an organizational desire to move up and calls have been made to multiple teams in the 20-30 range, gauging the cost of a potential deal, sources say,” Fedor wrote.
After a few years of watching the careers of the 2020 draft class unfold, what could the Cavs have done differently just a few years before Cleveland made its first NBA Playoff series since 2018?
The Original Pick
Cleveland had one selection in the 2020 NBA Draft.
They were coming off of a 2019-20 season that saw them earn a record of 19-46 and take the 15th spot in the Eastern Conference. Guard Collin Sexton led the team in scoring with 20.8 points per game during his second season in the NBA. Guard Darius Garland, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft, played and started in 59 games for the Cavaliers that season.
“We’re still going to acquire the best talent,” Altman said, via Right Down Euclid Editor-in-Chief Evan Dammarell. “We like where we are at five and we’re going to acquire a player that’s the best fit culturally and is also a talent.”
The Cavs originally picked Auburn forward Isaac Okoro with the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-5-inch forward earned averages of 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and two assists during his 28 games at Auburn, earning spots on the Southeastern Conference’s All-Conference Defensive Team and All-Freshman Teams.
“Yeah I think we were tremendously fortunate that we got the right fit in terms of player and the best talent on the board as well,” Altman said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “And that’s hard to do, because you’re always sort of weighing the right fit versus who’s the best available talent. And Isaac (was both).”
How bad could selecting one more point guard be?
Of the players taken after Okoro, it may seem like the obvious option to go after former Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton. The 6-foot-5-inch guard would fall to the Sacramento Kings at No. 12 in the 2020 draft. Florida State forward Patrick Williams, who was originally slated to go at No. 7 to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA’s 2020 consensus mock draft, was picked by the Chicago Bulls at No. 4.
After using their last two lottery picks to select 6-foot-1-inch point guards, would it have been the smart choice to go after another guard in Haliburton? And would they have found a way to trade Sexton or Garland if they did?
The 2020 consensus mock draft had the Cavaliers selecting Dayton forward Obi Toppin. Haliburton was slated to go one pick later to the Atlanta Hawks, while Okoro fell to the Phoenix Suns at 10. Toppin, who was taken by the New York Knicks in 2020, has career averages of seven points and 2.8 rebounds in 201 games played for New York. Haliburton, now a one-time All-Star and a member of the 2020-21 All-Rookie First Team, averaged 20.7 points and 10.4 assists per game with a Central Division rival in the Indiana Pacers.
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Cleveland could have reached for a forward like Devin Vassell or Saddiq Bey. The wing spots seemed to be the most glaring need for the Cavs at the time, a point Fedor brought up in a 2020 article.
“Wing is the most glaring need,” Fedor wrote. “It has been since LeBron James left for Los Angeles in free agency in 2018. Cedi Osman isn’t a starting-caliber 3. Dylan Windler, the 26th pick in 2019, remains an unknown after missing his rookie season due to lower left leg surgery. Alfonzo McKinnie is a backup. That would seemingly make Devin Vassell, Isaac Okoro or Deni Avdija the most logical choices.”
As tempting as it would be to select Haliburton, it may have been best to keep Okoro or take a forward like Devin Vassell. Vassell, who was taken at No. 11 in the 2020 Draft, has grown into a reliable scorer for the San Antonio Spurs over his three-year career. He averaged 18.5 points on a 43.9% field goal percentage and 38.7% from the 3-point line last season, taking second place on San Antonio’s roster in points per game behind forward Keldon Johnson.
If everything had played out the way it had in our timeline and the Cavs were still able to make the trade for Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, having Vassell’s scoring would have helped in Cleveland’s run for the playoffs and beyond.
Either way, the Cavs had options.
Let’s hope they made a good one.