The Cleveland Cavaliers know how difficult building a winning team is. A combination of luck and shrewd decision making is necessary for teams to break through and win a championship. And surely, as luck would have it, the arguable greatest player of all time in LeBron James grew up in the same state where the Cavs franchise was, and the Cavs were terrible during the draft cycle in which James entered the league.

But beyond the obvious number one that is The King, who else is deserving of inclusion on the list of the top 10 greatest Cavs draft picks of all time?

10. Tristan Thompson

Apologies to Terrell Brandon, Ron Harper, Andre Miller, and Carlos Boozer, but Tristan Thompson is the Cavs draft pick deserving of inclusion at number 10 on this list.

Thompson didn't exactly have an All-Star career, falling short of expectations out of a fourth overall selection. But for years, he was a vital member of the Cavs roster, a huge piece for the team that won the 2016 NBA championship. Thompson was relentless on the glass, and his switchability on pick-and-rolls was always an underrated weapon of their defense.

9. Evan Mobley

In these kinds of lists, it always feels wrong to put players who are still active and have a ton of room to grow. Evan Mobley is one such case. Mobley is just 22 years old and he's played in only two seasons for the franchise — the same number of seasons the likes of Ron Harper and Carlos Boozer spent in Cleveland. But Mobley will be here to stay for the Cavs for years to come, so he'll inevitably climb this ladder, health permitting. And even with what he's done during his brief career to this point, he's already more than deserving of a spot on this list.

Mobley came in as one of the best defensive youngsters the league has ever seen, giving a Cavs team that had already been building a nice core a foundation in the middle. His understanding of the game on the defensive end of the floor is unparalleled for a guy his age, and he has the physical tools to match. Mobley was more than deserving of receiving the 2023 Defensive Player of the Year award, anchoring the Cavs' top-ranked defense that had two undersized guards in the backcourt.

At this point, any offensive breakout from Evan Mobley will be gravy; if he manages to add a three-point shot, the league will be cowering in fear. But for now, his defensive excellence already makes him one of the best Cavs draft picks in its history.

8. Darius Garland

Darius Garland didn't exactly have the most promising start to his career. He was an inefficient, shot-chucking guard in his rookie year who almost seemed overwhelmed in his transition to the professional game. But as the game slowed down for Garland, he then became an incredible offensive force, a dynamic floor general who can pop off at any given night due to his incredible pull-up game.

The addition of Donovan Mitchell has knocked Garland down in the pecking order. But as those two backcourt partners grow together, Garland should be able to strike a much better balance in scoring and playmaking, being his best self without getting in Mitchell's way.

7. Campy Russell

It's interesting that Campy Russell's nickname on Basketball Reference is “Mr. Moves”, so he must have been an incredible player to watch back in his day for him to earn that kind of moniker. Not too many people alive nowadays were able to watch Russell at the peak of his powers, but thanks to the power of YouTube old footage, we can see that Russell was capable of a plethora of moves in the post, and he had audacious shot selection for his time, pulling up right in the grill of defenders from the deep along the perimeter — three-pointers had the three-point line existed during his time.

For seven years, he was one of the Cavs' most important players, averaging 16.1 points from 1974 to 1980 before the team traded him away to the New York Knicks.

6. Hot Rod Williams

For someone drafted with the 45th overall pick in the second round of the 1985 Draft, John Williams, affectionately known as “Hot Rod”, fashioned for himself an impressive NBA career. He may have never been a lead guy on any iteration of the Cavs, nor was he even considered an All-Star talent in a league that didn't have yet the number of teams it does today. But his consistency and top-tier contributions as a role player is more than enough for him to land on number six on this list.

For nine seasons, Williams was a crucial player for the Cavs, playing a myriad of roles around the team's core players in Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, and Larry Nance. Nevertheless, Williams always gave it his all in every second he played on the court. He crashed the boards hard and came from the weakside to swat shots over and over again, complementing the more ground-bound Daugherty.

In nine seasons with the Cavs (661 games), Hot Rod Williams averaged 12.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks — with advanced stats loving his impact for the team that goes beyond the box score.

5. Austin Carr

There are few players who bleed Cavs more than Austin Carr, the first overall pick of the 1971 NBA Draft. Even today, Carr loves the franchise so much that he remains an on-air talent for the team's local network broadcast on Bally Sports. He formed an exhilarating on-air duo with Fred McLeod, bolstering his already considerable Cavs legend even further. (Rest in peace, Fred McLeod. Your impressive calls have sorely been missed.)

But 50 years ago, Carr was beloved for his work on the court, even earning himself the nickname “Mr. Cavalier” in the process. Whenever Carr looks up in the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse rafters, he sees his name forever enshrined, his number 34 jersey never to be worn again by any Cavs player.

In nine seasons with the team, Austin Carr totaled 10,265 points, forever etching his name into Cavs lore with his consistency that nearly lasted a decade.

4. Zydrunas Ilgauskas

It's incredible to look back and see that Zydrunas Ilgauskas ended up playing 12 seasons for the Cavs after the team took him with the 20th overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. Ilgauskas' frame wasn't exactly the most conducive to facilitating a lengthy career, but there Big Z was, being a quality servant of the franchise for over a decade and being one of LeBron James' best teammates during his first run with the team.

Ilgauskas missed his fair share of games due to injury, an inevitability, given his size. But he always came back stronger, being a beast in the paint all the same while also popping out for his fair share of perimeter shots. His height, combined with his positioning knowhow, also allowed him to be an imposing presence at the rim.

In 12 seasons with the team, Zydrunas Ilgauskas averaged 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game — an incredible return for someone the team picked in the final third of the first round.

3. Brad Daugherty

It's always difficult to live up to the expectations that come with being the first overall pick of the NBA Draft. But Brad Daugherty, especially for his time, was a can't-miss prospect. He moved his feet fluidly for a guy his size, he had solid rim-protecting instincts, and to top it all off, Daugherty was also a versatile offensive force, a player who could pop up for midrangers while banging against the bruising bigs of the 1980s.

Daugherty was a huge part of the Cavs' rise to playoff contending status in the late 1980s, as he combined with Mark Price to form a deadly duo for a deadly Cavs team. Those Cavs, however, weren't able to mount deep postseason runs, with their most golden chance fizzling away in the aftermath of one of the most iconic shots of Michael Jordan's career.

It's quite a shame that Brad Daugherty didn't have the greatest durability, as his career got cut short by injuries after just eight high-level seasons. He was simply unable to shake off his back problems, injury woes that derailed his career for good. But his peak was definitely higher than that of Zydrunas Ilgauskas', as Daugherty notched five All-Star appearances in eight seasons, making him deserving of a higher spot than Big Z on this list.

2. Kyrie Irving

It's safe to say that the past few years haven't been kind to Kyrie Irving and his reputation among fans and analysts. Irving seems to have the exact opposite of the Midas touch, as he has oftentimes gotten in his own way with his questionable stances on socio-political and even scientific issues, none of which are particularly his areas of expertise.

But there's no mistaking that Irving is one of the most magical players the league has ever seen. Irving combines an endless imagination in conjuring dribble tricks with top-tier footwork, making him one of the toughest covers in the NBA. Even with defenders draped all over him, he manages to squeeze through with his deep bag of finishing moves, contorting his body in tons of ways to evade shot-blockers.

On his own, Kyrie Irving struggled to lead the Cavs to glory, as the team had three losing seasons with him as the lead guy. But with the return of The King, Irving settled into a more comfortable secondary scoring and playmaking role, blossoming as the crunch-time assassin we have all come to know him as. And in the 2016 NBA Finals, it was Irving who made the go-ahead triple that gave the Cavs a lead they wouldn't relinquish as they stormed back from 3-1 down to give the city of Cleveland its first major championship in 52 years.

It's too bad that the Cavs traded away Irving in 2017, when running it back could have given the team another chance to compete with LeBron James still at the height of his powers. Nevertheless, for that magical Game 7 shot alone, Irving belongs in the pantheon of all-time Cavs greats, and all-time great Cavs draft selections.

1. LeBron James

How incredible is it that a high schooler received the billing of being “The Chosen One” even before he stepped foot for a single second in an NBA court? At the time, there was no greater NBA Draft prospect than LeBron James, a freak of nature who got to the rim at will as he led the St. Vincent-St. Mary Irish to great heights. Despite being as young as he was, James' games drew the attention of fans on national TV — an inordinate amount of pressure that would have made mere mortals crumble.

But as we have all come to see, James is no mere mortal. As soon as James entered the league, his games became must-see television, with the Cavs reaping the benefits of winning the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft tenfold. In The King's second season, the Cavs emerged into a postseason team and never looked back. For as long as James was in town, the Cavs had a puncher's chance of winning a championship, but he became too good too quickly, preventing his team from adding other high-potential youngsters in the coming drafts.

Of course, LeBron James' Cavs tenure ended on a whimper. He struggled in the 2010 NBA playoffs before jumping ship and forming the vaunted Miami Heat big three soon thereafter. But all is forgiven. After four eventful seasons with the Heat and two championship rings, James returned home even after all the vitriol the Cavs fanbase hurled at him for his departure years prior. And the prodigal son delivered on multiple occasions, culminating in a 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals fueled by his insane chasedown block on Andre Iguodala in Game 7.

There's already considerable hype that comes with being the first overall pick in a stacked draft. But for James to have gone above and beyond in reaching those expectations? There's not quite a player in league history like James. Enjoy his greatness while it lasts.