After nearly a year of waiting, Cavalier fans were finally able to see the team use the draft selection that Kyrie Irving was traded for. With the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Collin Sexton, a dynamic point guard from Alabama.
Sexton should be a very solid player for the Cavs, but his play will forever be tied to Michael Porter Jr., who Cleveland decided to pass on because of his injury history. If Porter is healthy, he could be the best player in the entire draft class, and if that happens, the Cavaliers will never lose the title of “the team that passed on Porter.”
During his freshman season, Sexton averaged 19.2 points, 3.8 rebound, and 3.6 assists in 30 minutes per game. His ability to get to the basket is second to none in his draft class, and although he needs to improve his three-point shooting, he still made 34 percent of his triples, which is a higher percentage than Luka Doncic, the third overall pick.
The Cavs have Kyle Korver on the roster, who is one the greatest shooters in NBA history. Perhaps Korver can teach Sexton a few things, and if Sexton can become even a 38 percent shooter from deep, he will be a perennial All-Star.
Sexton is also a tenacious defender. He loved to play full-court defense in college and will always want to guard the opposing team’s best scoring guard. Cleveland began last season with Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose at point guard, two terrible defenders. Now, with Sexton and George Hill, that backcourt weakness has become a strength.
One of the main reasons why the Cavaliers chose Collin Sexton is his competitiveness. He is a fiery competitor, never backing down from a challenge. He is also no stranger to carrying his team, even scoring 40 points as Alabama was forced to play 3-on-5 against Minnesota last season.
Saying that Porter Jr. should have been the pick is no slight against Sexton. He is absolutely worth the eigth pick in the draft and is a great player for the Cavs to rebuild around. However, Porter’s combination of size, athleticism, and scoring ability gives him the potential to be one of the league’s biggest stars, and that’s something that the Cavaliers will have to live with, if he reaches his potential in Denver.
Coming out of high school, Porter was a consensus top three player in his class, rivaled by only the first and second overall picks, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III. Porter was a 6-foot-11, 215-lbs monster with the height of a center and the athleticism of a wing. He could score from anywhere on the court, and the fluidity with which he moved combined with his innate scoring ability drew comparisons to Kevin Durant.
While it is unlikely that Porter will be a player of Durant’s caliber, the potential is certainly there.
However, two minutes into his college career, Porter suffered a back injury, and missed all but the final two games due to surgery. While this is very concerning, what really disturbed NBA teams was the type of operation Porter had to undergo; the same procedure that Tiger Woods and Steve Kerr had, only while Woods and Kerr were in their late 30s and 40s, Porter was just 18-years-old.
Back problems are some of the worst an NBA player can possibly have, and teams were concerned that Porter wouldn’t have the longevity or consistent ability to remain on the floor that a top pick should have.
So it was obviously a gigantic risk to select Porter, and it was a risk that the first seven teams picking the draft weren’t willing to take. So why should the Cavaliers have thought any differently? After all, Porter lasted until the 14th pick, which meant that obviously his health concerns were serious enough to cause a top three player to the very back of the lottery.
The Denver Nuggets felt comfortable enough with Porter’s medical history to take him with the 14th pick. Their medical team apparently saw things differently than Cleveland’s did. Denver will now either pay the price or reap the benefits of their decision.
That was a risk that the Cavs were in a good position to take. When was the last time that an NBA Finals runner-up was in position to draft a preseason consensus top-three player?
One would be hard-pressed to find an example of something even remotely similar to that happening. But Koby Altman and the Cavalier front office passed up the opportunity.
Cleveland was well-equipped to take the risk on Porter for multiple reasons. The first involves LeBron James’ impending free agency. In order to convince James to remain with the team, the Cavs have to make some serious moves, as simply retaining the same team that was just swept by the Golden State Warriors is not going to be very attractive to him.
A rookie point guard is a good piece for a team like the Cavaliers to build around. However, starting a rookie at point guard is not exactly conducive to a championship contender. Sexton will not be enough to convince James to re-sign with the team. Which means that at this point, Altman and company should be preparing for James’ exit, and a subsequent rebuild.
That rebuild almost certainly has to include tanking for higher draft picks, especially this season, because the Atlanta Hawks own Cleveland’s 2019 first-round pick if it falls outside of the top 10. This means that if the Cavs aren’t going to be contending next season, they actually have incentive to lose.
And because of this, selection Porter was an option that the Cavaliers could have gone with. Even if the team was concerned enough about his back that they wanted him to sit out his entire rookie season to heal, they could have done that and not suffered.
If Porter never healed and ended up busting due to injuries, yes, it would have been very disappointing and an effective waste of a draft pick to begin a rebuild, but the possible reward makes him worth the risk.
Porter’s rebounding, athleticism, and scoring allowed him to dominate in high school. With a few years of NBA coaching, a technically refined Porter would be an absolute nightmare to defend. Adding a player of his caliber is a fantastic way to start rebuilding.
The Cavaliers made a good decision when they took Sexton. However, they could have made a better one by taking Porter. Over the next decade, Porter will be a player to watch, and he could leave Cleveland fans wondering what if.