August 20, 2014

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Brian Dulik: Cavaliers keep it simple and draft the best player

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, left, congratulates Andrew Wiggins of Kansas who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, left, congratulates Andrew Wiggins of Kansas who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

The Cavaliers didn’t try and outsmart the rest of the league, nor did they attempt to force a square peg into a round hole Thursday night.

Canadian basketball prodigy Andrew Wiggins was clearly the best player in the NBA Draft — and that made him a worthy No. 1 overall selection by Cleveland.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound swingman brings electrifying open-court skills, off-the-chart athleticism and a genuine passion for the sport to a franchise starving for those attributes.

“I think I can be a great player, and I want to be one of the best,” Wiggins said without a hint of cockiness. “I want to come in and make an impact right off the bat, playing defense, being Rookie of the Year and making the All-Star team.

“I want to make big things happen. And with hard work and dedication, I believe I can be the best.”

Wiggins wasn’t just the top available talent this year, he would have been the first pick in last year’s draft had the prep-to-pro option still been available.

Instead, he was forced to take his skills from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep to the University of Kansas for one season.

And as a result, then-Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant made Anthony Bennett the ignominious answer to a trivia question: Who is the worst No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery era?

Wiggins, meanwhile, continued to have college scouts and NBA executives pick apart every facet of his game. After doing so for two full years, the only negative they found was his shooting, which translated into a solid .493 percentage on two-point tries at Kansas.

“We were thrilled to take Andrew, and there was no part of us that didn’t want to take Andrew,” Cleveland general manager David Griffin said. “You’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out — and Andrew is all the way in.”

Wiggins averaged a school freshman-record 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Jayhawks, but defense was his calling card and the reason Griffin became enamored with him.

The Thornhill, Ontario, native is a willing and gifted defender, who uses his long body and wide wingspan to his advantage. Duke small forward Jabari Parker (No. 2 to Milwaukee) and Kansas center Joel Embiid (No. 3 to Philadelphia) will likely have fine NBA careers, but don’t possess that total package.

“You can’t be a great player without playing both ends of the floor,” said Wiggins, who has been part of the Canadian National Team program since 2010. “My athleticism helps me, and I think I’ll fit in great with the Cavs because they’re young and all of them are aggressive.

“I’ve also never been on a team where the guys didn’t like me.”

As Jayhawks coach Bill Self has repeatedly pointed out, Wiggins also possesses high character for a 19-year-old, which is another huge area of need for the Cavaliers.

Anyone watching his pre- or post-draft press conferences in New York could see that he “gets it,” which is a fine reflection on his parents, former NBA shooting guard Mitchell Wiggins and Canadian Olympic sprinter Marita Payne-Wiggins.

“What you see with Andrew is what you get,” Self said. “He’s a humble, unselfish, team-first guy. He’s been an unbelievable ambassador for our program and will continue to be a great ambassador for the years moving forward.”

Fortunately for Cleveland sports fans, his next five years — at least — will be spent wearing the wine and gold and, hopefully, playing alongside All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving.

A crowd of 11,201 celebrated wildly at Quicken Loans Arena when Wiggins’ name was announced by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, illustrating the momentum the Cavaliers are building as they head into a pivotal period of free agency.

“This is a night when the Cavaliers got appreciably better,” Griffin said. “Andrew has already reached out and made contact with Kyrie Irving, so that’s exciting. We can all go home feeling very good, knowing this was a very good day for our team.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.

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