Most NBA teams have seen their share of failures and successes when it comes to the draft. Few however, have seen such a negative trend with their draft picks do a complete 180 after a certain amount of time. The Cleveland Cavaliers are one such team, being the subject of disappointment after disappointment for a long period of time, and then seeing their fortunes improve in the proceeding era. With such disparity between the NCAA and NBA game, it's understandable why some picks, even first rounders would bust, but for a long time the Cavs too this outcome to the extreme, and only recently began to get the monkey off of their back.
Of course, there were some diamonds in the rough when it came to draft picks during the down period in the history of the team. But after the selection of one specific player (I'll give you a guess as to which player that may be), the Cavs morphed into a force to be reckoned with. As such, the quality of their picks became greatly improved overall. Still, it's important to remember the failed experiments, as well as smash hits.
Ranked below are the eight best and seven worst first round draft picks in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
15 BEST: Terrell Brandon
He's pretty anonymous now, but Brandon was actually a very solid point guard for Cleveland back in the 90s. He provided the team with some stability during what was mostly a down time for the franchise, and actually turned in a very good career for himself when it was all said and done. An 11th overall pick out of Oregon, Brandon was the prototypical of the era in the NBA, and put in six years of service with the Cavs. He would later go on to Minnesota and several other teams, but had his peak years of production in Cleveland. One of the more overlooked players in franchise history, since the fortunes of the team have turned around.
14 WORST: Trajan Langdon
Langdon was an 11th overall pick out of Duke, and like so many others who have come from the land of the Blue Devils, Langdon's skills didn't translate into a high quality NBA player. He spent a mere three years in the NBA from 2000 to 2002, all with the Cavaliers, and never played in all 82 games during any of his seasons. In short, he was the the definition of a bust, though the team would have worse ones later on. Very little is actually noteworthy about Langdon, and he was just another player who fizzled out after being selected in the first round by Cleveland. He wouldn't be the last either, but his career turned out particularly poorly. Definitely a pick the Cavs would like to forget in the grand scheme of things.
13 BEST: Ron Harper
Yes, before Harper was a member of the Michael Jordan Bulls dynasty of the 90s, he was a first round pick for Cleveland, and actually played very well for the team. Though he only spent four seasons with them, he was a well-rounded player and a prolific scorer. He was able to give them a player that set a precedent for future Cavs teams, and ultimately ended up going on to championship success during his time in Chicago. His time there however, was more that of a role player, instead of a featured one (and who could be upset playing second fiddle to the likes of M.J. and Scotty Pippen). Ultimately, Harper's best years were in Cleveland, and they gave him his start. Had he stayed, he would be considered one of the best players in team history.
12 WORST: Dajuan Wagner
Wagner was highly touted coming out of Memphis, and as a result, the Cavs ended up spending the sixth overall pick on him in the 2002 draft. It turned out to be a huge mistake, and Wagner produced just one middling season of productivity before falling into the doldrums completely. He wasn't reliable in the slightest, and his minutes per game dropped significantly for each of his three seasons in Cleveland. In all, he was out of the NBA after just four seasons, spending the last one riding the pine in Golden State before retirement. Missing this badly on the sixth overall pick hurts, and had the Cavs not improve significantly just after they drafted Wagner, they would have been regretting it big time. As it turned out, better years were just a short time away.
11 BEST: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Without question, Ilgauskas was the one bright spot on the Cavs before the days of LeBron. He was the one player that could be considered "elite" that was actually a homegrown talent. Benefitted from playing in an era where the center position was still a viable commodity, Ilgauskas proved himself to be one of the best big men in the NBA. Equally effective as a rebounder or scorer, he provided the Cavs with a steady hand every game, even if the roster most of those years wasn't up to snuff as a whole. Even when LeBron came in, Ilgauskas took a good bit of the pressure off of him. Ilgauskas was the durable force that the Cavs needed at that time, and even though he never won a title with them, he's still one of the best players in team history.
10 WORST: DeSagana Diop
While Diop actually ended up carving a lengthy career out for himself for many different teams as a somewhat reliable big man off the bench, as an eighth overall pick he was a confirmed bust for the Cavs. He played only three years with the team before leaving for a bevy of other teams. The hope was that the tandem of Diop and Ilgauskas would be a dominating force in the paint, which would flat-out overmatch the opposition, but Diop from the get-go proved that he wasn't a starting caliber player in the NBA. Still, he made the best of it, and as mentioned was able to find a spot on the roster as a big man off the bench. But his production was extremely limited, and for a top ten overall pick that's enough to be a failure, at least for the Cavs, who did draft him initially.
9 BEST: Brad Daugherty
The Cavs took Daugherty with the first overall pick in 1986, and he didn't disappoint. A center out of North Carolina, Daugherty was one of the best overall players in the NBA during his time in the league. A prolific scorer and a top-notch rebounder, he showed his prowess on both ends of the floor, making him a worthy selection at first overall. The only trouble was his early retirement after just eight seasons due to back problems, but it's difficult to fault him for that. The fact is that Daugherty was probably the most talented player on the Cavs roster until LeBron came along almost twenty years later, and he remains one of the most underrated players in the history of the NBA. You can find him showcasing his skills as an analyst today, though it doesn't quite match his talent on the court.
8 WORST: Bob Sura
In all honesty, Sura wasn't too bad of a player, but he always just seemed so underwhelming for what a first round pick is envisioned to produce. He was a fundamentals first player that only had several peak seasons of productivity, and most of them didn't come with the Cavaliers. It's hard to call Sura a total "bust" but he does fit the category of one more than not. It became clear very quickly that he wasn't going to turn around the misfortune for the Cavs; he just wasn't that kind of a game breaker the way other first round picks are. As it stands, Sura was a somewhat reliable, but unexciting talent that never lived up to the first round projection. More dynamic players would be just a short wait away for Cleveland however.
7 BEST: Dion Waiters
Waiters probably gets a worse reputation than he actually deserves. He's proven himself to be a quality scorer in the NBA, and that is difficult enough. Sure he only spent a few seasons in Cleveland, but from a pure talent perspective, he's probably one of the best players they ever selected in the first round. He may have gotten the short end of the stick, not being able to participate in the LeBron dynasty version of the Cavaliers, but he's still a quality player that could be an asset to a championship team down the road. Much like Ron Harper did with the Bulls after he left Cleveland. It would be a good idea to keep your eye on Waiters, as he still has plenty of years left in the tank, and could provide the edge that can get a middling team over the hump.
6 WORST: Randolph Keys
He played just two seasons in a Cavaliers uniform, and that is understandable, because Keys didn't come anywhere close to living up to the first round hype. A small forward with no definable element to his game that made him stand out, he quickly fell out of favor in Cleveland. Unlike some others however, he wasn't able to establish a niche with any other team, and he spent the rest of his career bouncing around the league, only to be cut shortly after joining it. Keys was a certified bust, and didn't do anything to turn around the play of the team during late-80s. All in all, his time in the NBA is best left forgotten. At least the Cavs were able to cut ties with him relatively quickly after realizing their mistake.
5 BEST: Tristan Thompson
Thompson has proven himself as one of the better overall big men in an NBA game today that often doesn't give them enough credit. He's a high-quality rebounder, and timely scorer when needed, giving the Cavs much needed depth in the paint, and a homegrown presence that is necessary in any locker room. Drafted fourth overall in 2012, the way the Cavs are set up currently, is exactly the reason why Thompson was selected. He can either compliment flashier players, or produce on his own, and overall it was well worth the investment for Cleveland. Thompson figures to stick around for at least a few more seasons, and may end up seeing a few more titles come his way while LeBron can still produce as a relatively elite level.
4 WORST: Luke Jackson
Yet again, Jackson was an attempt to give the Cavaliers an additional force in the paint. A tenth overall pick out of Oregon, he was expected to come in and produce very quickly as both a rebounder and a scorer. That was the furthest thing from from what happened and Jackson quickly fell into the depths of mediocrity. Cleveland saw this very quickly, and he spent just two seasons with the team before going on a tour of the NBA, remaining four more seasons in the league, spending each one with a different team. Jackson is one of the all-time busts in team history, and one that the Cavs would definitely like to have back. In all six of his NBA seasons, he played in just 73 games; a total that numbers less than one full regulation season. That kind of says it all right there.
3 BEST: Kyrie Irving
It's never been a secret that Irving is one of the best players in the NBA, but now he is one that gets to compliment the greatest player of all-time. Indeed, Irving is the Pippen to LeBron's Jordan, and that doesn't take away any of the accomplishments and production that's occurred on his end. Irving would be the best player on tons of other rosters, and he's one of the best pure scorers in the league right now. Perhaps not a traditional point guard, but with the way the Cavs play now, he doesn't really need to be. This first overall pick out of Duke has proven himself on a consistent basis that he is one the league's best. He should be in Cleveland for the rest of his career, and will likely be able to lay claim to several more championships when it's all said and done.
2 WORST: Anthony Bennett
Bennett is widely considered the all-time bust in NBA history. There are other names that are debatable, but there's no question that when you're selected first overall in the draft, you had better at least have a few All Star games under your belt. Bennett never was able to even sniff such an accomplishment, and it became abundantly clear that he wasn't the franchise player that Cleveland had hoped for. Four seasons in the NBA, and he spent them with four different teams; a testament to his mediocrity and anonymous nature on the court. Bennett was supposed to be the prototype for the "big man of the future" in the NBA, and instead ended up laying an egg. It's by far the worst pick in Cavaliers history, and with as many misses as they've had at such high draft positions, that's saying something. Bennett is the all-time bust, and by a fairly comfortable margin.
1 BEST: LeBron James
As if there could be anyone else in the number one spot. Perhaps the greatest NBA player there ever was, and the player that single handedly made the Cavaliers relevant on a championship level, and the player that made them relevant in the first place. LeBron is a force of nature any way you cut it. There hasn't been a player that impacts the game the way he does since the days of M.J., and he's used that to his advantage throughout his entire career. As long as LeBron remains on the Cavaliers, they are a contender for a championship, and that's just the bottom line. A poor front office that failed to provide him with quality players around him hindered his first run in Cleveland, but now it seems as if LeBron is the front office. As a result, Cleveland is likely to spend the 2017 Playoffs in the NBA Finals again, and it's of LeBron's doing. He might be the greatest player of all-time, but he is definitely, without hesitation, the greatest draft pick in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers.