The Cleveland Cavaliers select Ochai Agbaji with the 14th choice in the NBA draft

INDEPENDENCE – An impetus to earn now or continue to invest in the future.

That was the dilemma Cavaliers Basketball Operations president Coby Altman faced off in the first round of the NBA Draft on Thursday night.

With the 14th pick, the Cavs had to choose between a draft player ready for the league, such as Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji, 22, or one with more advantages, such as Ohio State guard Malaki Branham, who became 19 years old on May 12.

Altman and General Manager Mike Gansey chose to take Agbaji, perhaps covering the need for a sought-after wing player who can help immediately. St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Branham went to the San Antonio Spurs with the 20th pick.

Agbaji brings a pedigree championship after winning the NCAA title in April and should be able to help the Cavs push the playoffs. Last season they only had to win one of two games in the play-offs, but were eliminated by defeats to the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.

“I do not want to put him on a pedestal and say, ‘This is the next big wing we are drafting,’ but maybe it is,” Altman said. “I know he responds to a need right away and he will fight and he has this winning pedigree that we really like.”

Last season, Agbaji, the player of the year 12 big and the first team of the first All-American team, averaged 18.8 points (first in the league) and 5.1 rebounds and scored an impressive 40.9 % (second in the league) beyond the arc.

“We were a game away from the playoffs,” Altman said. “And I think there’s a need for this part of shooting. And not just on set … We went a little bit last year, a little bit stagnant a few times. And so maybe he can raise it and make it harder for us to protect ourselves right away.

“He can really shoot. It has a very fast trigger. You can remove it from the screens.

“You are talking about a national champion and he brings a set of skills that we do not necessarily have on the table. This set of skills will be used, we hope immediately.”

Agbaji was the most important player in the Final Four of the NCAA 2022. In his career he averaged 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals in 122 games, shooting 44.8% from the pitch and 37.4% on three-pointers.

Being a 6-foot-5 and 215-pound with a 6-10 wing span, the Agbaji was considered the prototype for the kind of NBA wing the Cavs needed, especially in terms of length, athleticism, shooting range and mechanics.

But it also brings the kind of character that the Cavs think will match what they have made. Altman said the Cubs have a great relationship with Kansas coach Bill Self, and they did a lot of work in the background for Agbaji.

“He’s just an incredible man,” Altman said. “He was always a bit late wherever he was, he had to work his way up, a bit self-made. He matched the character and the attitude and work ethic we were looking for. This is the first time we have shown a national champion right outside the gate and so brings a lot of distinctions, but I think it brings a humility that we appreciate “.

Agbaji spoke briefly to the media at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and swore allegiance to the Cavs and their fans.

“I just want to thank the organization and Cleveland for drafting me, for believing in me,” he said in a league transfer. “I will give you 110 percent every day and a positive attitude. That is really all. I will become a hard worker, I will come, I will be humble and I will represent my city well.”

With 39th overall in the second round, the Cavs selected Khalifa Diop, a 7.5-foot, 240-pound center from Senegal who played for Gran Canaria in Spain last season. The 20-year-old Diop was the winner of the 2021-22 EuroCup Rising Star Trophy, which honors the best player under 22 in the EuroCup, one level below the EuroLeague.

Agbaji became the Cavs’ first four-year player since Belmont University guard / forward Dylan Windler finished 26th overall in 2019. Injuries have derailed Windler’s career, limiting him to 81 games in the last two season.

Since the 2019 draft, the Cavs have built their second unit with four-year-olds without drafts, such as Kansas State’s Dean Wade (2019) and Penn State’s Lamar Stevens (2020), who climbed the two-way ladder.

The Cavs selected Isaac Okoro, a freshman from Auburn, in fifth place in 2020, and center / forward Evan Mobley, a freshman in USC, in third overall in 2021. Mobley was second in the NBA Rookie of the Year. to the nearest vote in 19 years.

Kansas winger Ochai Agbaji covers the need for perimeter shooting and defense for the Cavaliers, who selected Agbaji with the 14th pick in the first round of the NBA Draft on Thursday night.

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If the Altman rebuild goes as planned, the Cavs may not return to the draw for a while. They did not expect to keep the 14th option, which would have brought the Indiana Pacers into the trade for guard Caris LeVert, if the Cavs had reached the playoffs. Although this did not happen, their improvement by 22 wins was the second best in the history of the franchise.

The Cavs entered the night with options No. 14, 39, 49 and 56. Earlier in the day, they completed a trade with the Sacramento Kings for the 49th option in exchange for draft rights for striker Sasha Vezenkov, a Brooklyn option. 2017. The Nets in 2017 acquired in the three-team trade in January 2021 that brought All-Star center Jarrett Allen to Cleveland. The Cavs also sent $ 1.75 million to the Kings in the deal.

You can contact Marla Ridenour at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about Cavs at www.beaconjournal.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.

This article first appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal: The Ochai Agbaji Cavs Find the Wing They Need in the NBA Draft

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