The Joel Embiid news threw a huge wrench into the Cleveland Cavaliers' plan of selecting him with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Instead of selecting a franchise center for years to come, the injury risks are just too severe to take the risk of selecting a big man who will be battling back and foot concerns for quite some time. They now are faced with the decision of selecting between Jabari Parker out of Duke and Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas.
Before the college season began, these were the two biggest names in college basketball. Wiggins was the next big thing as a freak athlete and an alluring vertical leap of potential. Parker was a more polished scorer who didn't have the upside of raw potential, but could provide a steady hand on offense in high volume situations. In a way, the decision mirrored the LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony comparisons but on a much less historical scale.
After a college season of getting to know both prospects better, it's hard to have a true idea of which player will be the better NBA player over the course of the next 15-20 years. Let's take a look at the decision the Cavaliers have to make between the two players and weigh their options for them.
The battle of potential
Potential is a tangible currency in an intangible world of measurement. You look at an über athletic basketball player with skills that don't quite meet that athleticism yet and you begin thinking of what he could be. We so rarely see a player maximize his potential or even truly approach it because the possibilities are always assumed to be historic in measurement. Potential is assumed.
With Wiggins vs. Parker, potential is Wiggins' upper hand, assuming he's able to approach what we have believed his ceiling is for the past couple years. Once his skill set catches up to his athleticism, he could be one of the most dominant players of his era. While he's slight of build at around 6-8 and 200 pounds, Wiggins' 7-foot wingspan and vertical leap that looks down on 40-inch jumps. It feels like his potential is nearly limitless because his athleticism appears to be infinite on whatever his body needs him to do.
With Parker's potential, you see a more grounded attack, despite him being a fairly good athlete. You see him held back by conditioning and a little extra weight on his upper body, which could be shed quite easily in an NBA training environment. This would lead to a quicker, more agile Parker who already has a clear skill set. He can shoot the ball, he can make plays driving with the ball, and he can finish around the rim. With Jabari Parker, his potential is based on seeing if his athleticism can approach his skill set.
It becomes an interesting philosophical question of which player has greater potential. Does the natural progression of Wiggins in an environment of an NBA development staff create the opportunity for his skills to catch up to his freakish body? Does Parker's necessity to cut weight to allow his body to maximize his skill set seem like a more likely scenario for an attainable goal?
I think it shows us that while Wiggins may have the greater potential, Parker may have the more realistic potential. It depends on which potential you feel is more intrinsically valuable to your team's future.
The battle of winning now
The Cleveland Cavaliers haven't truly sniffed the playoffs since LeBron James' departure and over the past year you can see just how serious owner Dan Gilbert wants to be about returning to the playoffs as soon as possible. Assuming the Cavs keep this pick and don't move it for a star on the market, they'll have to answer the question of which player not only helps them win now, but also which player fits best into their roster for accomplishing those goals. It's easier for a rookie to make an impact scoring the basketball because a rookie playing defense on the wing can be such a rough learning curve when they have offensive responsibilities to comprise that role.
In looking at the Cavs' roster, they have a franchise point guard in Kyrie Irving, a backcourt mate for him in Dion Waiters who may or may not fit with the team long-term, a bevy of big man options, and not much going on with their wing players. The big man options include Anderson Varejao in the last year of his contract, Tristan Thompson eligible for a contract extension off his rookie deal, and Anthony Bennett with Tyler Zeller in their rookie contracts still.
If the team believes Jabari Parker is best used as a stretch-4 or he can shed weight and be an agile small forward, it gives them more options for how they fit him in under David Blatt and the lineup possibilities. Adding Parker to the mix would improve their half court offense. He's a legitimate scoring option, who was surprisingly a worse spot-up shooter than Wiggins last year. However, he was capable of efficiently scoring in the post, in isolation, and moving toward the basket. He can take a lot of pressure off of Irving and be a legitimate No. 2 option for an offense that finished 23rd in the NBA and 24th in halfcourt offense.
With drafting Wiggins, they're waiting for his potential to be realized and hoping he can provide a steady shot from the outside. Wiggins was a serviceable spot-up shooter at Kansas, but it certainly wasn't a strength like he shows in transition or cutting to the basket. He was a very good catch-and-shoot option when he was unguarded, showing there is a good chance of him becoming a good shooting option in the future.
Cleveland was only 18th in pace during last season, and with their young players and adding someone like Wiggins to the fold, they would be able to push the tempo more under Blatt if that's the way he wants to go. Wiggins is devastating in transition and having him forcing turnovers on the wings with his defense would go a long way toward getting the Cavs to take better advantage of scoring off opponents' mistakes (26th in the NBA last season).
The question comes down to do you believe improving in the half court is what's necessary for this team to take the leap or do you think trying to speed up the game and force turnovers on the perimeter behooves the Cavs more? Could the development of Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett greatly affect the answer to that question?
Who is actually the better prospect?
Should the Cavaliers draft Parker or Wiggins? Do you go with a scoring option or an option for freakish potential? Does Parker give you a better chance of making the playoffs now vs. Wiggins giving you the better chance of being a contender in the playoffs in three years? Does the rumor that Parker may have tanked his workout with the Cavaliers sully his name with the organization or do they want him no matter what and are confident they can show him this is the right place for him over the next decade?
You also have to look at which player provides the best reason to convince Irving this is the place for him following his first extension, which likely will be a five-year, max offer from the organization. The good thing for David Griffin and the front office is they truly can't go wrong with this selection process. Their patience and fortune have paid off in giving them the option to add a second star to the team and they have two stars to select from.
If they still believe Bennett, last year's surprise top pick, can be a contributor for them, Wiggins is the move and they don't have to worry about getting it wrong. He'll provide the necessary help on the wing and provide a running mate for Waiters and Irving to get the ball to as we see a young, hungry team look to make YouTube clips at the expense of the rest of the league.
If the team isn't confident Bennett was the right pick and are worried about an extension to Thompson being too much for their long-term flexibility, then you go with Parker and give Irving the secondary weapon he deserves to play next to. You let Parker dismantle the opposing 3 or 4 based on the best matchup and you continue giving yourself lineup flexibility to leave your opponents scrambling.
Or they could shock us all again, take Dante Exum, and really throw a wrench into draft night.