INDEPENDENCE — A push to win now or continue to invest in the future.
That was the dilemma Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman faced Thursday night in the first round of the NBA Draft.
With the 14th pick, the Cavs were forced to choose between drafting a league-ready player such as Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji, 22, or one who may have more upside such as Ohio State guard Malaki Branham, who turned 19 on May 12.
Altman and General Manager Mike Gansey elected to take Agbaji, perhaps filling the need for a long-sought wing player who can help right away. St. Vincent-St. Mary High School product Branham went to the San Antonio Spurs with the 20th pick.
Agbaji brings a championship pedigree after winning the NCAA title in April and should be able to help the Cavs make a playoff push. Last season they needed only to win one of two games in the play-in tournament, but were eliminated with losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.
"I don’t want to put him on a pedestal and say, ‘This is the next great wing that we draft,' but maybe it is," Altman said. "I do know that he fits a need right away and he’s going to compete and he has that winning pedigree that we really like."
Last season Agbaji, the Big 12 Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American, averaged 18.8 points (first in the league) and 5.1 rebounds and shot an impressive 40.9% (second in the league) from beyond the arc.
"We were one game away from the playoffs," Altman said. "And I do think that there's a need for that shooting piece. And not just stand-still shooting ... We got a little bogged down last year, a little stagnant at times. And so maybe he can sort of turn it up and make us harder to guard right away.
"He can really shoot. He’s got a really quick trigger. You can run him off screens.
"You talk about a national champion and he brings a skill set that we don’t necessarily have to the table. That skillset is going to be utilized, we hope right away."
Agbaji was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 NCAA Final Four. In his career, he averaged 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals in 122 games, shooting 44.8% from the field and 37.4% on 3-pointers.
Standing 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds with a 6-10 wingspan, Agbaji was considered the prototype for the kind of NBA wing the Cavs need, especially in terms of his length, athleticism, shooting range and mechanics.
But he also brings the kind of character the Cavs believe will fit with what they've built. Altman said the Cavs have a great relationship with Kansas coach Bill Self and they did a lot of background work on Agbaji.
"He's just an incredible human being," Altman said of Agbaji. "He’s always been sort of a late bloomer wherever he’s been, he’s had to work his way, sort of self-made. He just fit the character and the attitude and the work ethic that we’ve been looking for. This is the first time we’ve drafted a national champion right out of the gate and so he brings a lot of accolades, but I think he brings a humbleness that we appreciate."
Agbaji spoke briefly to the media at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., and made a vow to the Cavs and their fans.
"I just want to thank the organization and Cleveland for drafting me, believing in me," he said in a transcript provided by the league. "I'm going to give you 110 percent every single day and a positive attitude. That's really all. I'm just going to be a hard worker, come in, be humble, and represent my city well."
Agbaji became the first four-year player drafted by the Cavs since Belmont University guard/forward Dylan Windler was taken 26th overall in 2019. Injuries have limited Windler to 81 games over the past two seasons.
Since the 2019 draft, the Cavs have built their second unit with undrafted four-year players such as Dean Wade of Kansas State (2019) and Lamar Stevens of Penn State (2020), who came up through the two-way ranks.
Cleveland Cavaliers select center Khalifa Diop with 39th overall pick
With the 39th overall pick in the second round, the Cavs selected Khalifa Diop, a 7-foot-1, 240-pound center from Senegal who played for Gran Canaria in Spain last season. Diop, 20, was the winner of the 2021-22 EuroCup Rising Star Trophy, which honors the best under-22 player in EuroCup, one level below EuroLeague.
Cleveland Cavaliers select Isaiah Mobley, Evan Mobley's brother, 49th overall
With the 49th overall pick, the Cavs selected USC junior power forward Isaiah Mobley, the older brother of their No. 3 pick last year, Evan Mobley. Isaiah Mobley stands 6-foot-10 and 238 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan.
Applause could be heard from the Cavs draft room at Cleveland Clinic Courts after the Mobley pick. Evan Mobley was the runner-up for NBA Rookie of the Year in the closest vote in 19 years.
Isaiah Mobley was named the Trojans' MVP and first-team All-Conference in the Pac-12 last season, leading USC with 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 29 blocked shots. He finished second in steals (24), assists (106) and minutes played (1,089) in a 26-8 season. He was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 defender and also shot 36% from 3-point range.
The Mobleys played together for one season and their father, Eric, remains an assistant coach under Andy Enfield.
Isaiah Mobley tested the NBA draft waters after his sophomore year, but elected to return to school. In his career, he averaged 10.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 27.5 minutes of 95 games, shooting 46% from the field, 36% beyond the arc and 59.6% on free throws.
Cleveland Cavaliers select Australian guard Luke Travers with the 56th overall pick
The Cavs ended the night with the selection of guard Luke Travers, 6-8 and 199 pounds with a 6-10 wingspan, from Perth, Australia at No. 56 overall.
According to ESPN's Jonathan Givony, Travers showed versatility for Perth last season, playing point guard and small forward. He is expected to eventually earn a spot on Australia's national team.
Darius Garland due a rookie max extension: 'Hope I'm a part of it': Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Garland downplays likely extension
Collin Sexton facing restricted free agency: 'Important part of this team': Cavs' Collin Sexton deserves a chance to win, Altman says
Darius Garland has special bond with dad: For Cavaliers All-Star guard Darius Garland and dad, Winston, 'It's Father's Day every day'
Cavs face offseason decisions: Five biggest offseason priorities facing the Cleveland Cavaliers
If Altman's rebuild goes as planned, the Cavs might not be back in the lottery for a while. They didn’t expect to retain the 14th pick, which would have conveyed to the Indiana Pacers in the trade for guard Caris LeVert if the Cavs had reached the playoffs. That didn't happen, but their 22-win improvement was the second-best in franchise history.
The Cavs entered the night with picks No. 14, 39 and 56. They completed a trade earlier in the day with the Sacramento Kings for the 49th pick in exchange for the draft rights to forward Sasha Vezenkov, a 2017 pick of the Brooklyn Nets in 2017 acquired in the January 2021 three-team trade that brought All-Star center Jarrett Allen to Cleveland. The Cavs also sent a reported $1.75 million to the Kings in the deal.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Cavs at www.beaconjournal.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: In Ochai Agbaji Cavs find the wing they need in NBA Draft