March Madness is upon us once again and the entire basketball world has its eyes locked in on the best college players in the country. The Cleveland Cavaliers have their sights set on more than a few potential top picks for the 2018 NBA Draft and most of them are playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The pick that the Cavaliers received from the Brooklyn Nets via the Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics can be any one of the top draft picks in this year’s draft. At the moment, the Nets have the fifth worst record in the league. The Cavs have a higher chance at getting one of the top three picks in the lottery if Brooklyn loses more games in the coming weeks.
It’s always easier when you have one of the higher picks so you can have plenty of options with it.
No matter what the wine and gold end up with in the Draft Lottery, they’ll have to keep their eyes open for some golden moments in the tourney.
Here are five players the Cavaliers should keep an eye on in the NCAA Tournament:
5. Michael Porter Jr. (Small Forward / 6’10”/ 215 lbs. / Freshman)
Everyone was surprised to know that Michael Porter Jr. was going to play another game this season after Porter suffered a back injury in his first college game that required surgery.
He is the top player in the 2017 class but the injury prevented fans and NBA scouts from assessing how good he can be once he entered the league. Despite this, he is still expected to one of the top picks in the draft barring any unforeseen circumstances from here on.
In his first game back, Porter shot poorly against Georgia, making only five of 17 shots and finishing the game with 12 points.
According to Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the number of shots didn’t bother him.
“He’s not a selfish player,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He took 17 shots. It doesn’t matter to me how many shots you take. More than anything it’s catching and shooting the ball in rhythm (and) not necessarily shooting it quick but allowing it to come to you. … I didn’t have a problem with his shots. It’s not like they were bad shots. It wasn’t like he was forcing shots over guys. I think our offense was stagnant, was clogged up because of his rhythm (and) not being part of (the rotation).”
His Missouri Tigers will face off against the Florida State Seminoles when he returns to action on Friday night.
The Cavs will be watching Porter very closely as he may well show everyone why he was the nation’s most-coveted recruit. If the Tigers go deep in the Tournament, the country will be watching Porter whether he has the smarts and the guts to play in the big games.
4. Trae Young (Point Guard / 6’2” / 180 lbs. / Freshman)
Trae Young wasn’t on anybody’s radar at the beginning of the season but soon after became the face of the NCAA. He made history by leading the nation in scoring (27.4) and assists (8.8). That’s definitely one for the record books. In the NBA, only Nate “Tiny” Archibald has ever led the league in scoring and assists in a single season.
Despite a roller-coaster ride in his freshman year that ended with the Oklahoma Sooners losing to the Rhode Island Rams, 83-78 in overtime in the NCAA Tournament, Young was spectacular even in defeat. He carried the Sooners as much as he possibly could, scoring 28 points making 9-of-18 field goals. He also had 7 assists and 5 rebounds.
“This is a tough process, but right now my focus is with my teammates,” Young told ESPN. “Later this week I’ll sit down with my family and talk about my future plans.”
Future plans mean the NBA Draft, of course.
“This is something we didn’t expect,” his father, Rayford Young, said. “It happened 1,000 miles per hour. I’m so proud of him. We’ve got a decision in front of us now.”
Yes, and that decision will more than likely end up with him announcing that he’s headed for the draft and the Cavs have surely taken notice. Though he only played one game in the tournament, that’s something that the team will be dissecting to determine his ability to play at the next level.
Young can be the star point guard that the Cavaliers lost when they traded Kyrie Irving last season. If he is available wherever the Cavs are picking from, Young is a great pick for the future of the franchise.
3. Mikal Bridges (Small Forward / 6’7” / 210 lbs. / Junior)
The No. 1-seeded Villanova Wildcats defeated 16th-seeded Radford Highlanders 87-61. Mikal Bridges scored 13 points, 6 rebounds and made 3-of-6 three-pointers to help the Wildcats advance to the next round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bridges is one of the premier swingmen in the nation, averaging 18.0 points, 5.4 rebounds,1.1 blocks and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 52.1% from the field and 53.3% from three. Not only is he an offensive threat, but he is capable of locking down the best players of other teams as well. His skills will translate well in the NBA and the Cavaliers may have their swingman of the future if they select him with their pick.
Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer has this to say of Bridges:
“Mikal Bridges has never been more valuable than he is now. The Villanova junior is one of the nation’s best players on a top-five team, and he fits the mold of a positional archetype every NBA team needs.”
“Three-and-D players, particularly ones with size and elite shooting ability, are hard to find,” Tjarks adds. “There are only nine players in the NBA this season with wingspans longer than 7 feet who are shooting better than 40 percent from 3 on more than two attempts per game. Most are stretch big men. The only perimeter players are Otto Porter Jr. and Kevin Durant. The old rule was that big men always rise in the draft because quality 7-footers are so hard to find. The league-wide move toward small ball has flipped that dynamic on its head. Most teams have more centers than they can use, and no one has enough wings.”
Bridges is on the Cavs’ radar and, if he gets selected, they can be certain that they are getting a quality player on a winning team that can play right away.
2. Mo Bamba (Power Forward / 6’11” / 225 lbs. / Freshman)
One of the most intriguing prospects of the 2018 draft is Mo Bamba. Averaging 12.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks this season, he has the opportunity to showcase his skills on the big stage.
He had a game versus Kansas this season where he had 22 points, 15 rebounds and 8 blocks. Jayhawks coach Bill Self said: “The guy can block the sun.”
Bamba led the Big 12 in rebounding and blocks and will lead 10th-seeded Texas (19-14) against 7th seed Nevada (27-7) on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
He is likely going to be one of the top four picks in this year’s draft and his stock would’ve skyrockets if the Longhorns went deep into the tourney. His strength is on the defensive end, as he is capable of defending the paint and all the way to the three-point area. His offensive capabilities are still growing, however, and if the Cavs were to select him in the first round, they will have to be patient when training him on that end of the floor.
But with his game-changing defense, Bamba is a prospect that the Cavs are considering very highly.
1 Marvin Bagley III (Power Forward / 6’11” / 234 lbs. / Freshman)
In his first NCAA Tournament game, Bagley scored 22 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, not necessarily the eye-popping numbers you would expect from a potential No. 1 pick. But he shot 10-of-14 from the field for a 71.4% field goal percentage in 32 minutes of action and he simply overpowered his opponents in the process. More importantly, Duke beat Iona 89-68 in their NCAA tourney match-up.
Bagley is averaging 21.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks for the Wildcats.
“I think I’m No. 1,” Bagley told Bleacher Report. “That’s the reason I play the game. … I mean this humbly, but I want to be the best player ever to play the game.”
Bamba, Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton and Slovenia’s Luka Doncic may have something to say about that.
DeAndre Ayton is already the top big man in many NBA scouts’ minds but Bagley can prove himself to be the better player in his upcoming performances. He was a finalist for the Naismith and Wooden Awards and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.
If the Nets’ 2018 pick ends up being number one overall, don’t be surprised to see the Cavaliers take him.