November 26, 2014

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NBA Draft: Cavaliers debating Kanter and Valanciunas at No. 4

Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas? That is the question that could well be confronting the Cavaliers when they make the fourth pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday.

Assuming Cleveland takes Duke point guard Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick – “I don’t see anyone but Kyrie Irving going No. 1,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said in a conference call earlier this week – at least one and perhaps both big men will be on the board at No. 4.

Minnesota will likely take Arizona’s Derrick Williams at No. 2, and Utah appears to be leaning toward a point guard – Kentucky’s Brandon Knight and UConn’s Kemba Walker are the front-runners – or Czech Republic small forward Jan Vesely at No. 3.

If Utah goes either of those ways, Kanter and Valanciunas will both be on the board when the Cavs pick at No. 4. If Utah chooses one of the big men, Cleveland will likely be deciding between Vesely and whichever center is left.

“I wouldn’t hesitate,” Bilas said. “I’d take Irving No. 1 and Kanter No. 4, if he’s still there.”

Fran Fraschilla, another ESPN draft expert, agreed when asked to choose between Valanciunas and Kanter, but he’s not particularly high on either at the moment because both are relatively unproven 19-year-olds.

“Throw darts against the board,” Fraschilla said. “None of us know how this is going to turn out (a few years from now). I would say take Kanter because of his size.”

The Cavs might be leaning that way. They’ve already had the Turkey native – Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA last year prior to his freshman season at Kentucky – in for one workout and are scheduled to meet with him again Monday, with owner Dan Gilbert expected to sit in on that session.

Kanter, who measured 6-11 1/4 and weighed 259 pounds at a pre-draft workout in Chicago, last played competitively as a 17-year-old in Europe, so gauging just how far his game has progressed is a bit of a concern.

“He’s like Bigfoot,” Fraschilla said. “There have been sightings, but not many.”

However, most scouts like what they’ve seen from Kanter, who appears to be more NBA-ready than the 6-11, 240-pound Valanciunas and fellow Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas (7-0, 224).

“This is a guy who didn’t come out of nowhere,” Fraschilla said of Kanter. “At 16, he was playing in the European under-18s.

“There’s not a large resume there for Enes, but the resume that is there is fairly solid going back to the age of 16.”

The much rawer Valanciunas is considered a bigger risk, at least immediately, for several reasons, foremost among them being the fact he’s under contract to Lietuvos Rytas for two more seasons and does not yet have a buyout in place.

Fraschilla, however, is of the opinion a buyout will be reached because Rytas needs money and doesn’t want to risk losing Valanciunas for nothing in two years.

“As we get closer to the draft, some sort of buyout will be worked out,” he said.

Still, Valanciunas needs to add a lot of strength and develop his offensive game before he’s going to be a factor at the NBA level. On the flip side, most scouts think his long-range potential surpasses Kanter’s.

For that reason, ESPN draft guru Chad Ford favors taking Valanciunas at No. 4.

“They’re both risks and they both have upside,” he said. “If you’re picking Kanter, you’re picking him because he’s a bit more polished offensively right now and he has a better NBA body. If you pick Valanciunas, you’re picking on upside. I know some scouts think he can end up being the top pick in this draft (several years down the road), but he’s got a long way to go.”

Like Fraschilla, who said Valanciunas was “manhandled” by strong European centers, Bilas would go with Kanter.

“He’s got the NBA body right now,” Bilas said. “You don’t have to wait on him as far as that’s concerned.

“If not him, then who? If you’re not picking him, you’re just moving on to another player who has concerns.”

Tip-ins

Asked for a sleeper pick late in the second round, the first player Bilas named was Ohio State swingman David Lighty.

“He can guard, he’s got a good body and he knows how to play,” Bilas said. “He’s a guy who will come in and do the dirty work for you.”

The Cavs have two second-round picks – the 32nd and 54th overall – and might consider Lighty with the latter, especially given their lack of quality shooting guards and small forwards.

“He’s a guy I think can make the league,” Bilas said.

(bullet) Fraschilla said scouts who watched Kanter play during Kentucky practices came away impressed, while Ford pointed out the Cavs might be willing to take a gamble on Valanciunas – even if they have to wait a year for him to join them – because they also have the No. 1 pick.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.