The Cleveland Cavaliers have had nine lottery picks in the last nine years. That includes three No. 1 overall picks, one No. 3 overall pick, two No. 4 overall picks, two No. 5 overall picks, and one No. 8 overall pick. You would think with all that draft capital that the Cavaliers would have a core of young players the team built around to eventually contend for a championship.
Instead, the Cavaliers used maybe a couple of those picks to build around as LeBron James gave the team the greatest offseason gift of all time by returning home. That prompted the team to use most of their draft capital to acquire Kevin Love. In the end, it resulted in four NBA Finals appearances and one championship in 2016.
Owning lottery picks isn’t something new for the Cavaliers when you look at the team historically. In the history of the NBA, the Cavaliers own the most No. 1 overall picks in team history. That usually means that the franchise has lost their share of games too. Given that the team has just one championship in their long history, it goes to show that earning the No. 1 overall pick doesn’t always guarantee anything.
Austin Carr - 1971 NBA Draft
Stats (Cavs) - 16.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Stats (Career) - 15.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG
The No. 1 overall pick in 1971 went to Austin Carr, who was a 6-foot-4 shooting guard that was a highly touted recruit out of the University of Notre Dame. Carr came to Cleveland after scoring 2,560 career points at Notre Dame, which ranked him fifth all-time in college basketball history at the time of his departure. That total put him at an average of 34.5 points per game.
In the NBA, Carr made one All-Star appearance and eventually had his No. 34 jersey retired by the Cavaliers. With Carr leading the way, Carr helped lead the Cavaliers to their first winning season in 1975-1976, which included a Central Division title and their first playoff appearance in franchise history. The Cavaliers made their first-ever Conference Finals after winning an exciting Game 7 over the Washington Bullets in the semifinals. Eventually, the team would lose to the NBA champion Boston Celtics.
This led to three straight playoff appearances. His best overall playoffs came in 1978, where he averaged 17.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. Carr never could lead the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, but also never lived up to expectations for No. 1 picks. In the end, he made the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame after what we could call a very good NBA career.
Brad Daugherty - 1986 NBA Draft
Stats (Cavs) - 19.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Stats (Career) - 19.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
In college, Daugherty played under Dean Smith and was considered one of the best big men to ever play at North Carolina. He was a 16-year old freshman when he entered college. He was named a two-time All-ACC First-Team selection and First-Team All-American in 1986. At the end of his senior year, he averaged more than 20 points per game.
Daugherty was taken with the No. 1 overall pick after Cleveland obtained the rights to the first pick with the Philadelphia 76ers for Roy Hinson and cash. The Cavaliers formed a nice core with Ron Harper (No. 8) and Mark Price (No. 25) in this draft. During his college days, Daugherty was the central pillar of the team.
In the pros, Daugherty averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game for eight seasons. When he retired, he was the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Cleveland with 10,389 points and 5,227 rebounds. His all-time scoring record stood until LeBron James broke the record in 2008.
Daughterty was a five-time All-Star and had his No. 43 retired by the team. His career was cut short at the age of 28 because of recurring back issues. When we think of great players who saw their careers cut short because of injuries, Daugherty is one of the players at the top of the list.
LeBron James - 2003 NBA Draft
Stats (Cavs) - 27.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Stats (Career) - 27.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG
In the modern era, has there been a player the world anticipated more than LeBron James? Michael Jordan was never taken with a No. 1 overall pick, but when James was taken out of high school, many believed that he was the second coming of Jordan. So far, he has come pretty close to that comparison.
When LeBron played for the Cavaliers from 2003 to 2010, the Cavaliers made the NBA Finals in 2007. Then, the team made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 before falling to the Orlando Magic. LeBron quickly turned into a villain when he left the Cavaliers to go title-chasing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
After winning two championships with the Heat, LeBron returned home and led the Cavaliers to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals, including winning Finals MVP as the Cavaliers won the championship in 2016. Those accomplishments could not have been done had a few future No. 1 overall picks been used to bring Kevin Love to town.
Kyrie Irving - 2011 NBA Draft
Stats (Cavs) - 21.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Stats (Career) - 22.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.4 BPG
When LeBron left, the following season was a disaster. It was so bad that the team received the No. 1 overall pick, which was used on Kyrie Irving. Without LeBron, Irving was unable to lead the Cavaliers to the playoffs but did gain national attention for receiving Rookie of the Year and All-Star Game MVP two years later.
Who knows if LeBron would have returned home had Irving not been on the team, but he was the perfect complement to the superstar. Irving played with LeBron for three seasons, including three trips to the NBA Finals. Despite winning a title with LeBron, Irving didn’t like playing in LeBron’s shadow, which prompted him to leave Cleveland for the Boston Celtics.
Irving’s departure left a sour taste in the mouth of LeBron and others. He eventually left the Celtics after two seasons. Now, he is one of the leaders of a Brooklyn Nets team that is favored to win the NBA championship. The other? LeBron James and the Lakers. Will we have two former Cavaliers’ No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Finals this year?
Anthony Bennett - 2013 NBA Draft
Stats (Cavs) - 4.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Stats (Career) - 4.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG
There was no greater meme created when Anthony Bennett was drafted No. 1 overall and the shock of Bill Simmons created one of the best reactions in sports. Bennett has been considered one of the biggest busts in NBA history and had no business being selected No. 1 overall. To this day, we don’t understand why he was taken with the first selection, especially when you look back and see that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert were still available.
At UNLV, Bennett played 35 games and averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. He shot 53.3% from the field, including 37.5% from the three-point range. The Runnin’ Rebels lost in the second round of the playoffs. Then, the Cavaliers took him at No. 1 overall, where he lasted one season, averaging 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game.
Bennett’s true place in history will not be for his play in Cleveland, but for being included in the draft package that landed Kevin Love. Had Love not joined the Cavaliers, the team might not have had enough to win a championship in 2016. As for Bennett, he hasn’t played in the NBA since 2017.
Andrew Wiggins - 2014 NBA Draft
Stats (Cavs) - 0.0 PPG, 0.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Stats (Career) - 19.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Wiggins had a lot of potential coming out of Kansas. As a freshman, Wiggins averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and made 34.1% of his three-point shots. Wiggins once scored 41 points in a game, which was the most in a game for a Big 12 freshman since Michael Beasley scored 44 points in 2008.
Like Bennett, his spot in Cavaliers history will not be with the team. Wiggins was included in the trade package to acquire Kevin Love. Wiggins eventually won Rookie of the Year and made All-Rookie First Team, but has been quiet ever since. All in all, Wiggins has been a very good player, but not a great player that you would expect from a No. 1 overall pick.
Wiggins has never made an All-Star appearance and has played in the playoffs just once. Since joining the Golden State Warriors, Wiggins has missed out in both seasons as well. With that said, with the full Warriors squad healthy, Wiggins has a chance to compete for something for the first time in his career.
Cavaliers Found Use For All No. 1 Picks
When you look back in history, the Cavaliers have found a way to maximize the value of all No. 1 overall picks. For Carr, he led the team to their first winning season in NBA history. The 49-win team that he was a part of was a franchise record for wins that nearly stood for 15 years. Then, when Daugherty played, the team qualified for the playoffs in seven of his eight seasons in the league. That included a trip to the Conference Finals before losing to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
LeBron is making a run at being considered the greatest basketball player of all time. If LeBron were to retire today, he would be the second-best player ever. He will forever be remembered in Cleveland sports for leaving the Heat to return home and lead the team to a title.
Irving and LeBron may never be friends, but the two were a part of the big three that led Cleveland to their best run in basketball history. Thanks to both Bennet and Wiggins, the team was able to bring in Love, a multi-All-Star, who was the final piece of the puzzle. Some No. 1 overall picks wash out. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Looking back in history, you have to give Cleveland credit for maximizing the value of each player they took at the top.
Credit for an idea: Uncovered NBA/Instagram