It has been nearly 40 years since a true shooting guard was the top overall pick in the NBA Draft. If the Cavaliers elect to end that streak and select Ben McLemore first overall in two weeks, hopefully it works out better than the last time it happened.
The Atlanta Hawks made David Thompson the top pick of the 1975 draft, but he never played for them. Thompson was also the top pick of the ABA Draft that year and elected to play in the ABA before the two leagues merged.
The list of players to go No. 1 overall is littered with point guards and big men. McLemore is well aware of that, since he used some down time after the season to research the last time a shooting guard was the top pick.
“I realized I can make history,” McLemore said. “Coming from nothing and just having the opportunity to get the No. 1 spot, I’m going to work for it. It’s definitely neck and neck.”
The other “neck” McLemore was referring to was Nerlens Noel, but the Cavs have seemed cool on Noel since winning the draft lottery last month. Questions about Noel’s knee and offensive game persist, while the 6-foot-5 McLemore averaged 15.9 points and shot a shade under 50 percent for the Jayhawks in a real-life rags-to-riches story.
One of six children, McLemore was so poor growing up that his mother sometimes had to sell food stamps in order to pay bills and keep the electricity on in the family’s tiny St. Louis home. McLemore told USA Today he would sometimes go a couple of days without eating as a child, the only bed in his house had just three legs (the fourth corner was supported by books) and as many as 10 relatives would often sleep in his house, which was less than 600 square feet.
McLemore’s high school in St. Louis closed prior to his senior year, launching him on a strange journey that included a brief stop at famed Oak Hill Academy before he settled in at Christian Life Center in Texas. All the transferring left McLemore ineligible as a partial academic qualifier his freshman year. He practiced with the likes of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, but was unable to play as the Jayhawks beat Ohio State to advance to the national-championship game two years ago.
He quickly emerged this season as the difference maker on a team that started four seniors, and Jayhawks coach Bill Self has declared McLemore the most talented youngster he has ever coached.
The fact he survived poverty and established himself as one of the brightest stars in this draft is a tribute to both his talent and survival skills, yet skeptics continue to question his aggressiveness on the court.
It’s a similar complaint that dogged Paul George a few years ago when critics questioned his motor, yet the Indiana Pacers selected him 10th overall and George has flourished into one of the league’s rising stars.
There is a big difference in the 10th pick and the first pick, however, and the Cavs understand the importance of getting this pick right in a draft bereft of a clear No. 1 prospect.
Dion Waiters’ presence could compound the Cavs’ choice. The Cavs selected Waiters, a shooting guard, with the fourth overall pick last year and spending top-five picks in consecutive drafts on shooting guards is a bit curious.
The Cavs drafted Waiters to start alongside Kyrie Irving for the next decade, but Waiters has proven he can play well in a reserve role and he excels with the ball in his hands. Waiters as a reserve would also address the Cavs’ need for a backup point guard, and it provides insurance in case the oft-injured Irving suffers another one.
The Cavs could find ways to play all three together at times, as the Golden State Warriors did this year with Jarrett Jack, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
McLemore’s eyes widen when he hears comparisons to Ray Allen and indeed has a smooth shooting stroke to go with incredible leaping ability.
Whether or not that’s enough to make the Cavs buck recent history remains to be seen.
“I could see myself as a [NBA] superstar,” McLemore said. “You just have to put in the hard work. The hard work pays off. Years before this I probably wouldn’t think I’d be in this position to take care of my family and take care of myself. It’s a dream come true.”
UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett will visit the Cavaliers on Monday, a league source confirmed. Bennett is under consideration for the top overall pick in the draft. He will be unable to work out, however, since he is still recovering from a shoulder injury. Bennett is a bit undersized at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, but he averaged 16 points and eight rebounds and comes from the same hometown as Cavs forward Tristan Thompson.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.