Lebron James left Cleveland (the first time) in the summer of 2010. Since that season, the Cavs have had quite the roller coaster of draft picks. They have won the lottery three times – drafted a legend and a an all-time bust.
In hindsight, let’s take a look at the Cavs draft classes since the first post-Lebron era.
In their first post-Lebron season, the Cavs actually won the lottery, via the LA Clippers pick. During the season, Cavs acquired Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round draft pick from the Clippers Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. That picked turned into Kyrie Irving, who obviously played a major role in the 2016 NBA Championship. The two picks that followed Kyrie were Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter.
At #4, the Cavs picked again, this is where their own pick fell. They took Tristan Thompson, who has spent his whole career thus far in Cleveland, averaging 9.2 ppg and 8.6 rpg for his career.
A few key stars who were picked later include Kemba Walker 9th, Klay Thompson 11th and Kawhi Leonard 15th.
For the second year in a row, the Cavs picked fourth and selected Dion Waiters. At the time I thought they should have taken Harrison Barnes, who went 7th to the Warriors (ironically part of the 2015 championship team that beat Cleveland and 2016 team that lost to Cavs). Damian Lillard went 6th. Waiters went one spot after the Wizards took Bradley Beal #3.
Waiters played three seasons with the Cavs, averaging 14.3 ppg in 164 games. He was traded to the Thunder in 2015, in a three way trade that netted the Cavs JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, from the Knicks. Two key members of their 2016 championship run.
The Cavs picked #1 again! And this was the worst #1 pick of all-time. Cavs drafted Anthony Bennett, who played 52 games with the Cavs as a rookie and averaged 4.2 ppg and 3.0 rpg, playing just under 13 minutes per game. He was part of the Kevin Love trade package and played 57 games for the Wolves in 2014-15. 42 games with the Nets and Raptors later, Bennett hasn’t been seen in the NBA since 2017. He has played 151 total games, starting just 4, and averaging a grand total of 4.4 ppg.
Victor Oladipo, who has made the All Star team each of the last two years, went second. Giannis went 15th. This wasn’t a great draft. The consensus at the time seemed to be that Cavs should draft Nerlens Noel first, if they weren’t going to take Oladipo (which they werent due to the redundancy with Kyrie and Waiters). The issue with Noel was he was coming off a serious knee injury in college and was unlikely to play as a rookie and the Cavs wanted an immediate contributor. Clearly, Noel, playing 0 games, would have contributed more than Bennett. Alex Len was another guy who was rumored at the time to be in consideration for #1. Len has career averages of 7.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg after being drafted 5th by the Suns.
Somehow, the Cavs picked first AGAIN! They took Andrew Wiggins, which was the consensus pick at the time. Jabari Parker went 2 and Joel Embiid 3. It’s easy to say now, that Embiid is the best player in this draft, but he also sat for his first two years and Wiggins was part of the Kevin Love deal, so this wasn’t a bad pick in hindsight. When Lebron James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, he made it clear how excited he was to play with certain players and never once mentioned Wiggins by name. That was a sign that he was likely never going to be a key member of the team.
Let’s skip 2015-2017, since the Cavs didn’t pick in the lottery, courtesy of Lebron James leading them to the Finals each year. Despite being in the Finals in 2018, they still picked in lottery as a result of the Kyrie Irving to Boston trade. The key component of that trade was the acquisition of the Brooklyn Nets lottery pick, which was projected to be in the top 3, but the Nets showed great improvement and their pick landed at 8.
Cavs used the pick to draft Collin Sexton, who played all 82 games as a rookie, starting 72 of them, averaging 16.7 ppg and proving to be a valuable building block for the Cavs rebuild as they move forward.