June 21, 2011
You may not have heard of him a month ago -- heck, I hadn't heard of him a week ago -- but Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas(notes) has become a bit of hot commodity. He's got a top-five pick of a game (at least in this draft), hops for days, and has room to grow. The issue is his availability. The buyout issues following the 19-year-old center have some mock drafts pushing him nearly out of the lottery. After all, why select someone that you might not see until the 2012-13 season, at best?
Then again, with a player with Valanciunas' athleticism, skills and drive in question, why not wait until 2012? Especially when there might not be much of a 2011-12 season. And especially if you're a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, finally fully committed to rebuilding, and possessing two of the top four picks in Thursday's draft? With the first, sure, they're taking Kyrie Irving(notes). They'd be Kahn-ish not to. But with the fourth, in a limited draft like this? With Enes Kanter(notes) an odd thing to bank on? With Jan Veesly not really offering immediate answers? With Brandon Knight(notes) all Brandon Knight-ish?
Why not go with Jonas? Even if you have to wait a year?
Cavs the Blog's John Krolik wants to go with Jonas. And John agrees with my personal draft sage, who handed me his mock draft the other night, which in turn has me agreeing with John when he writes this:
Here's my justification: Do I think that Valanciunas will be a better player in the 2012-13 season than Kanter or any other non-point guard player who will be available at the #4 spot? I do. Do I believe the Cavs are ready to make a serious playoff run in 2011-12? I do not. Given those two conclusions, I think it makes sense to take the best player, wait the year, and not settle on a lesser player because of impatience.
The trick behind that is that you have to sell your fans, your angry and rabid fans, on a player that they might not see for a year. But that uneasiness will last for, what, two days' worth of a news cycle? All while you're introducing the clear top player in this draft? All before you potentially close up shop for months as we head into a lockout? Take a chance on the big. Especially if the buyout works, and he ends up in Cleveland, throwing down dunks on the break with Irving leading the way.
UPDATE: Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com, who is as about as respected as they come in terms of international scouting, has a Twitter reply to the headline above:
(Photo credit: Associated Press)