By Jonathan Gorman
With the NBA draft fast approaching, it has become apparent that the Cavs are only considering taking two players with the top overall pick: Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams. Since the Cavs have holes all over their roster, both players are fits, and they have both gotten serious looks by the Cavs organization. However, unless the Cavs manage to trade for the second overall pick, they’re only going to be able to draft one of them. At the end of the day, will they chose the cerebral floor general, Irving, or the highly productive athletic freak, Williams?
If the Cavs are looking for a point guard of the future, their search starts and ends with Kyrie Irving. Irving is a 6’3 point guard from Duke who partook in the more and more common “one and done” route through college after being one of the most highly recruited high school prospects around. Irving’s year at Duke started incredibly well, as the team was number one overall in the country and he was a big part of that, but a mysterious toe injury (that no longer bothers him) prevented him from playing in a large part of the season. Eventually, Irving returned in March, but only to see his team get eliminated by Williams’ Arizona Wildcats in Irving’s third game back.
The evaluation of Irving’s game starts with his abilities as a point guard. In a league in which explosive athletes such as Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and John Wall are becoming the model, Irving trades supreme athleticism for pure point guard skills. Irving is a throwback, in that he takes a much more cerebral and calculated approach to the game, using a quick but not elite first step, combined with hesitation dribbles and long strides to keep defenders off of their game and off balance while creating for himself and his teammates. Irving definitely turned the ball over more than one would hope, with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.74 and a turnover percentage of 18%, but it’s important to note that he just turned 19 years old three months ago. He is playing the position that undoubtedly takes the most basketball intelligence at a high level and at an extremely young age, giving promise that that ratio will improve as his understanding of the game does, and as he matures as a player.
While Irving doesn’t have the pure speed and leaping ability of the three point guards listed above, he is still a great scorer. He may not be able to take off from the free-throw line and throw down a windmill dunk, but Irving combines his quickness and IQ to get his shot off over bigger defenders in the paint. Irving’s also a knockdown shooter, as evidenced from his .462 3P%, .901FT% and .529FG%. What results from those three numbers is a ridiculous true shooting percentage of .70, which was second only to Ohio State sharpshooter Jon Diebler. Irving clearly has NBA three-point range, and defenders will need to play up on Irving or else he will simply take the open shot. He is the complete scoring package as a point guard.
As a defender, Irving shows a lot of promise. He has good size for the position at 6’3, and even though his wingspan is unspectacular (6’4), he has very good lateral quickness and shows the desire needed to play defense at a high level in the NBA. Once again his high BBIQ shines here, as he is able to effectively jump passing lanes for his fair share of steals. He may not many any all NBA defensive teams, but he will be far from a liability on this end.
As if his basketball talents weren’t enough reason to take Irving, he compliments that with perfect intangibles. Leading up to the draft Irving has given a number of interviews in which he’s shown to be extremely well spoken, humble and with a desire to win. He combines that with a quiet confidence on the court, as if he knows that he’s the best player on the floor, and that he knows what to do with the ball and when. Essentially he’s the perfect face of a franchise, and would fit in perfectly with the Cavs as they build towards the future.
While Irving has been an elite basketball prospect for a few years now, Derrick Williams has had to rise through the ranks. Coming out of high school, Williams was barely a top 100 recruit, yet thanks to hard work mixed with tremendous athletic ability, Williams looks poised to be a top two pick in the draft. The sophomore from Arizona developed on a promising freshman season and became a devastating offensive force in his second year. He led the Arizona Wildcats to a five seed in the NCAA tournament despite starting the season unranked, where they beat favorite Duke and lost in the elite 8 to eventual national champion UCONN by two points.
Offensively, Williams flashed every tool you can look for in a power forward, displaying a combination of post moves, a face up game, and long range shooting. What resulted is the no. 3 true shooting percentage in the NCAA of .69 (.01 percent behind Irving), and the second highest number of free throw attempts per game, at 8.7 (he converted 74.6% of them). Simply put, power forwards on the college level could not keep up with him.
What makes Williams so appealing offensively is his multifaceted approach to scoring. When he catches the ball he goes directly into attack mode, showing quickness, leaping ability and power that is a little reminiscent of 2008 number one pick Blake Griffin. What Griffin doesn’t have however, is Williams’ range, which makes him extremely appealing as a pick and pop option on the next level. As a result, Williams has been drawing a lot of comparisons to a more athletic version of the Hornets’ David West. West has made a living off of his devastating midrange game, and the two have very similar height and weight with West having a slightly higher wingspan. Williams however, is both more athletic than West is, and has much more shooting range, making his upside higher than that of West. He could end up being what Michael Beasley was supposed to be coming out of Kansas State (which could pose an interesting situation, since if the Cavs pass on Williams, he will likely be on the same team as Beasley in Minnesota).
As a rebounder, Williams has all of the tools you can ask for, but isn’t a beast on the glass, as one would expect. He isn’t particularly good from a per-minute perspective, and only averaged 2.8 offensive rebounds and 5.5 defensive rebounds despite playing 30 minutes per game. Williams’ problem is that he loses focus on occasion, and gets caught ball watching instead of boxing out. Much of the same problems apply to Williams defensively, as he puts sometimes puts in an impressive effort, but is not always extremely focused, and is prone to picking up fouls. The foul problems cause Williams to contest fewer shots than he should, and he already is not a strong shot blocker thanks to his average length as a power forward. On the next level he should be a below average-average power forward from a rebounding and defense perspective.
As a result, Williams has been trying to sell himself as a small forward leading up to the draft so that he will not have to carry such a burden as an interior defender and rebounder, but it’s evident that he lacks the dribbling and passing skills needed to play the 3. He isn’t necessarily a black hole on offense, but his 1.1 assists per game were unimpressive to say the least, and his 2.6 turnovers speak to his lack of dribbling and passing ability. Williams especially has a lot of trouble locating and passing the ball to the open man off of double teams. If he does stay at the 4 long term, it is an area of needed improvement.
At the end of the day, Williams does one thing extremely, well: score. He is not an elite defender or rebounder, but you can get away with a power forward being average at both of those categories in the right situation, and that isn’t so say that he won’t improve. Williams has clearly demonstrated that he is a hard worker, and clearly developed throughout high school and college. Williams also demonstrates a clear swagger on the court, often showing emotion that one likes to see in a young and hungry player like Williams. The swagger translates to interviews too, where he is not shy to tell others about his basketball skill.
While Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are both fantastic players, Irving is clearly a step above. He simply does not have any glaring weaknesses to his game, and while Williams could be a mismatch nightmare for a team going forward, he isn’t the complete player Irving is. Adding onto that, having Irving at the one long term assures that the team has a steady leader, both on and off the court, as it starts to rebuild as a franchise.