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Five March Madness players for Cavaliers fans to watch for during conference championships

Five March Madness players for Cavaliers fans to watch for during conference championships

Throughout the 2017-18 NBA season, one raging question was whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers would trade away the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first-round draft selection that they received from the Boston Celtics in the infamous Kyrie Irving trade along with Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic. We now know where the Cavaliers stood after that deal.

When the dust settled after the deadline, the Cavs ended up trading away Crowder and Thomas and kept the coveted Nets draft pick. While there could have been a chance the Cavs could have gotten them a player to help them win now, the Nets pick would instead give them a player that can be a franchise cornerstone for the future, as this year’s NBA Draft Class is as loaded as the year the Cavs drafted LeBron James first overall.

At the beginning of the NCAA basketball season, I laid out a few prospective players with the impression that the Cavs would be selecting in the 6-10 range before the draft lottery.

Now with a full season of collegiate basketball almost complete, a select group of players has been in the conversation for the top five NBA Draft selections, with some early-on players slipping out of the top five as well.

LeBron James Kyrie Irving

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To be frank, this year’s class is so talented that having at least a top-eight selection will get a team franchise-altering talent and thankfully, the Cavs are likely going to be one of those teams.

Much like the initial article, there are a plethora of uber-talented big men and now two talented wing players that the Cavs will likely have a chance to select come the night of the 2018 NBA Draft. With conference championship tournaments underway over the next two weeks before March Madness, now is a fantastic time for fans to get to know a player who has a good chance to wear the Wine and Gold next NBA season.

JB Forbes

1) Michael Porter Jr. – SF/PF, Missouri – 2.0 Points, 2.0 Rebounds

The early-on consensus for the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was easily Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. This is because Porter is a one of a kind prospect with so such an arsenal of scoring abilities it’s damn-near scary how good he could be at the next level.

Unfortunately for Porter, and basketball fans as a whole, things came to an end before it could even begin as Porter only logged two minutes of collegiate basketball before being sidelined with a back injury that would require surgery and sideline him for the entire NCAA season.

Fast forward to before the SEC Tournament, and Missouri, who is currently floating in the middle of the pack in SEC standings, will now have the chance to have Porter shine with the team due to the fact that his recovery has gone along much better than expected.

While Mizzou head coach Cuonzo Martin does not have a timetable for Porter’s eventual return, if he does return in time for the SEC Championship tournament, it will certainly help his stock with NBA teams if he helps carry the Tigers to a deep March Madness run.

While Porter Jr was the odds-on #1 pick heading into this collegiate season, the fact that he was sidelined by a season-ending injury, coupled with the fact that players like Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, and Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson all have entered the conversation to pass up Porter for the top overall selection.

With the before-mentioned players, along with international phenom Luka Doncic and Duke sensation Marvin Bagley, it would not be a surprise for Porter to be pushed out of the top five of the 2018 NBA Draft and right into the Cavs’ lap.

Since there is not a ton of film on Porter’s collegiate game, many NBA scouts, for now, have to go on what he showcased at the high school level which was incredible. Porter’s calling card is the fact that he is a Swiss Army Knife on the offensive side of the ball, mostly due to the fact that he utilizes his length at 6’10” (with a 7’0.5″ wingspan) to attack the rim with relative ease as well as hurt teams from beyond the arc as well.

Michael Porter Jr. also utilizes his length to attack the glass and can rebound the ball with relative ease as well. To give Cavs fans an idea of how special Porter really is, here is a highlight reel from the 2017 Nike Hoops Summit:

For the Cavs, Porter could instantly slot in at the power forward spot and start alongside both LeBron James and Kevin Love in the frontcourt. The fact that Porter could learn from James, the greatest player of all time, would be huge for not only Porter but the Cavs themselves, as they get their franchise cornerstone to lead the team to greatness when King James finally hangs up his Nikes.

The other luxury Porter has if drafted by the Cavs is the fact that he is able to properly rehab if he is still not 100% ready for basketball activity due his back injury. There would be not as much pressure as there would be with any other lottery team in the NBA and Porter would fit in perfectly with the Cavs’ timeline with their newly-formed youth movement.

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Porter is oozing with potential and can easily become the best player down of the 2018 NBA Draft Class down the road. With his spooky scary skeleton length and the ability to use it to punish teams when on offense, he best compares to NBA players like Kevin Durant or Joe Johnson. The Durant comparison is not hyperbole as Porter can easily grow and become the best scorer in the league much like Durant is now.

NBA Comparison: Kevin Durant/Joe Johnson

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2) Marvin Bagley III – Duke, PF/C – 20.7 Points, 11.1 Rebounds, 1.6 Assists, 1.0 Blocks

Like Porter, heading into the 2017-18 NCAA basketball season, Marvin Bagley was also considered an easy favorite to be the #1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Also like Porter, the fact that this year’s draft class, along with the needs of teams in the lottery, can easily push Bagley out of the top five of the draft and right into Northeast Ohio’s basketball club.

But, unlike Porter, there is plenty of footage for Bagley and the season he is having this year is incredible for the Duke Blue Devils. He is an offensive monster that decimates opposing team’s defenses and has been the driving force for a Blue Devils team that is the odds-on favorite to win the National Title this season.

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Bagley also has been a glass-eater the entire season with averages of 11.1 rebounds, and would instantly be an upgrade for the Cavs who have struggled to rebound the ball with rolling with Tristan Thompson as the team’s primary big man.

Speaking of Thompson, Bagley would ideally be the perfect fit to play alongside Kevin Love instead of Canadian Dynamite. Bagley can easily slot in as the team’s starting power forward, with Love returning as the team’s starting center. The duo of Love and Bagley would easily be the best big man combo in the NBA and playing alongside LeBron James will also give Bagley plenty of easy looks to let him destroy the basket like he has all season for the Blue Devils.

When Love sits, Bagley can also play center for the Cavs and would be awesome when used as a part of the bench rotation when Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood come on the floor for the team.

The biggest knock right now on Bagley’s game is the fact that he is still pretty young, with his nineteenth birthday still on the way in mid-March. Due to his young age, his game still needs some proper polish but learning alongside some of the best players in the NBA with the Cavs can really go a long way. Like Porter, having LeBron James, and Kevin Love, as teachers would be huge for Bagley’s development as he becomes a former Duke Blue Devil that does not mind playing in King James’s shadow until the team becomes his.

The best NBA Comparison for Bagley is Kevin Garnett for quite a few reasons. This is mostly because of the tons of potential Bagley shows like Garnett did coming into the NBA, on both offense and defense.

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Bagley also has shown a mean streak that reminds a lot of people of Garnett as well. Bagley would be an amazing draft pick for the Cavs with the Nets draft selection and would be a cornerstone that would be a huge part of the Cavs for the foreseeable future.

NBA Comparison: Kevin Garnett

3) Mohamed Bamba – C, Texas – 13.0 Points, 10.6 Rebounds, 3.8 Blocks

In the early-on article I first did about who the Cavs should consider with the 2018 Nets pick, I had Texas Longhorn big man Mo Bamba as the best possible choice for the team. But with Porter and Bagley now in the fold, Bamba falls two spots to third overall on the Cavs’ big board.

The thing is, he still would be a monstrous force for the Cavs on the defensive side of the ball and would be an instant fit alongside Kevin Love in the team’s frontcourt.

Bamba has played exactly as he was originally scouted a few months ago with the fact that he is still a freak on the defensive side of the ball with a dynamic average of 3.8 blocks per game. The defensive anchor that Bamba brings to the table would be massive for a Cavaliers team that has struggled all season long defending the rim and would also allow Kevin Love to slide back to his natural power forward position, and allow him to dominate again as the best four in the Eastern Conference.

The one thing that Bamba also has on all the other Cavs bigs at center in Tristan Thompson and Ante Zizic is the fact that he has been a consistent free throw shooter, with a collegiate career average of 68.1%. This would be huge down the stretch for the Cavs, as they would be able to not have a detriment like Thompson when it comes to free throw shooting.

When I first talked about Bamba, I first compared him to Rudy Gobert:

“The player that Bamba most compares to is Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, not only because of Bamba’s knack for defense but also because of how career projects to be the same as Gobert’s. Coming into the NBA, Gobert was viewed as a raw, defensive-first NBA center that would only provide put-back dunks and solid defense for Utah. But with time, Gobert has become one of, if not the best, center in the NBA and helps lead an elite Jazz defense and also shoulders a massive scoring load as well.”

And with the collegiate season almost over, Bamba still compares best to Gobert and would be an incredible pick for the Cavs with the 2018 Brooklyn Nets draft pick.

NBA Comparison: Rudy Gobert

4) Wendell Carter Jr. – PF/C, Duke – 14.3 Points, 9.5 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists, 2.2 Blocks

Like Bamba, Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr. was another early-on player that I thought the Cavs should consider with the coveted Nets draft selection. With the Blue Devil’s regular season soon coming to a close and March Madness soon upon us, Carter Jr. has easily played throughout the season to earn a spot with the Cavs next season.

Throughout the season, Carter has showcased a game that would compliment Cavs star power forward Kevin Love’s game in nearly every single way. Carter is one of the top finishers in college basketball, despite a lack of explosiveness, and would be able to showcase that ability even more with the perimeter and spacing threat that Love provides. But when Love operates down low, Carter can also hurt teams from beyond the arc as well, with shooting at a 48.6% clip from the three-point line for Duke this season. To get a better idea of Carter’s strengths on offense here is one of his best games this season against Wake Forest:

Heading into college, Carter showed a knack for defense and has really been able to show it throughout the season with 2.2 blocks. He would be an instant upgrade for the Cavs’ rim protection and would yet again be a perfect fit next to Kevin Love on the defensive side of the ball.

Carter has been eclipsed this season by teammate Marvin Bagley III but has quietly had a great season himself. The NBA player Carter best compares to is Al Horford because of his sound defensive instincts coupled with his all-around offensive game that can help the Cavs in a myriad of ways. He would be a perfect pickup for the Wine and Golders and would be a cornerstone of the team for the future.

NBA Comparison: Al Horford

5) Mikal Bridges – SG/SF, Villanova – 17.2 Points, 5.3 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists

The final player to round out the list of players for the Cavs to consider with the Nets pick is Villanova Wildcat Mikal Bridges. While all of the other players on this list are all freshman, Bridges is proven commodity as a junior and is the reason why the Wildcats are one of, if not the best team in the country.

The main reason Bridges is such a big part of ‘Nova’s success is the fact that he is such a stud on the defensive side of the ball. This is because he has quick feet to stand toe to toe with guards, the timing, and mentality to fight bigger, stronger frontcourt players, and the length to smother anyone big or small.

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The fact that Bridges wields a 7’1″ wingspan that can play at the top of Villanova’s 1-2-1 press or down low in its zone as a rim protector. He is the complete package on the defensive side of the ball and that can easily translate to the next level in the NBA.

The other reason Bridges is considered a top ten selection is how much his offensive game has grown from the time he set foot on Villanova’s campus. One of his biggest developments was his three-point shooting where he shot at a 29.9% clip his freshman year, a 39.3% clip as a sophomore, and is now connecting on 41.9% of his three-pointers this season. This growth is huge and shows that Bridges can be a reliable scorer from beyond the arc at an NBA level.

With such an incredible defensive ability and a constantly growing offensive game, Bridges could easily slide in as the Cavs starting two-guard and provide the perimeter defense that has been killing the team throughout the season. He would also be able to learn to become an even better shooter from Kyle Korver and eventually become a lethal three-point shooter as well. The defensive intensity and blossoming offensive game compares Bridges best to San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard and can really become the next Leonard by joining an amazing cast of NBA stars like Leonard did when he entered the league seasons ago.

lebron james kawhi leonard

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NBA Comparison: Kawhi Leonard

In the end, the Cavs can cement their youth movement of Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and Larry Nance Jr by adding an extremely talented rookie from the 2018 NBA Draft Class.

Because of how talented this class is, any team that falls in the top ten are going to land a franchise-altering talent and in the Cavs’ case, they have a huge chance of landing a future superstar like Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. or Duke’s Marvin Bagley III.

LeBron James Tyronn Lue

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Even if they do not land Porter or Bagley, the Cavs could also land a talented defensive specialist like Texas’s Mo Bamba, Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr., or Villanova’s Mikal Bridges that all can easily join the Cavs starting lineup and help fix a lot of problems the team still has.

With the NCAA’s conference championship tournaments, along with March Madness, almost upon us Cavs fans can get a good look at any of these players that all have a great chance to play for the Wine and Golders next season.