Zion Williamson is the name that has been abuzz with scouts and managers across every team in the NBA. Duke’s premier 6’7” freshman boasts NBA-level athleticism and a natural gift for getting the ball to the rim — and the Cleveland Cavaliers are in prime position to obtain him. A losing record in the NBA means a better chance at getting a high draft pick at the end of the season, but Cleveland’s odds at drafting Zion number 1 may have just become a bit slimmer with their recent back-to-back wins against top teams Philadelphia and Houston.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, who before this weekend sported a measly 2-14 record, have just completed their first back-to-back wins of the season and NBA pundits are scrambling to fit the two wins into the current Cleveland narrative of “struggling in the wake of LeBron’s leave.” James’ escape to Los Angeles only scratches the surface of the Cavs’ turbulence this season. Cleveland’s front office fired their head coach Tyronn Lue after a 0-6 start to the season, and it only seemed to go downhill from there. Stories emerged of Cavaliers veterans disparaging rookie Collin Sexton, claiming “he doesn’t know how to play,” which led to the eventual removal of 2016 champion J.R. Smith, among other questionable decisions from owner Dan Gilbert — such as limiting the playtime for committed veterans, including forwards Kyle Korver and Channing Frye. So how exactly did the Cavaliers cough up two galvanizing wins against playoff-caliber teams last weekend?
In his past five games, point guard Collin Sexton has averaged 21 points, two assists, and two rebounds, a resounding rebuttal to the veterans who doubted him. Sexton’s career-high 29 points led the charge against a hot Houston Rockets team Saturday, accompanied by center Tristan Thompson’s 16 points and 20 rebounds. The day prior, their win against Philadelphia, who recently acquired star Jimmy Butler, was led by three Cavaliers scoring 20 points or more in a teamwork-heavy effort which ended a 10-game winning streak for Philly at home. For all the trials and tribulations that this Cavaliers team has undergone, they are no less adamant on convincing fans that their games are still worth the time to watch, even without perennial superstar LeBron James.
Pulling off two stunning wins against top NBA teams wasn’t always in the cards for owner Dan Gilbert, however. After their harrowing 1-9 start to the season, Cleveland committed to a long-term masterplan to aim for a lower record and land a high lottery pick in this season’s top-loaded draft. Gilbert’s plan includes finding more development for his younger players, including Sexton and sophomore forward Cedi Osman, which was a crucial consideration in Lue’s firing.
Cleveland’s schemata is nothing to scoff at — the top prospects of this year’s draft look to be the best we’ve seen in years. Duke forward Zion Williamson sits at 6’7” and 285 pounds with all the intangibles of a star player, and is the apple of every general manager’s eye. His teammate forwards RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, as well as North Carolina’s Nassir Little and Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, all look to be highly valued prospects with the capacity to landscape a fringe team like Cleveland. Other lower-tier teams such as the Atlanta Hawks and the Phoenix Suns all look to throw their hats into the ring to aim for Zion Williamson, and Cleveland is among them.
The Cavaliers’ road to success isn’t as clearly laid out as it was during the LeBron era. Many teams go through different star players, draft prospects, and front office management before striking the right chords. Cleveland, albeit missing a few key components, and are stepping up to the challenge of adversity every night. The now 4-14 Cavaliers have a tough road ahead of them, but this weekend of hard work and dedication has shown that they will be infinitely more than a losing-record team when it comes time to try and draft Zion Williamson.
Will Strohmeyer, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at WStrohmeyer19@wooster.edu.