CLEVELAND — New Cavaliers coach John Beilein will find much he doesn’t know as an NBA rookie.
But with three first-round picks, two of them 19-year-olds, to go with three returning players 22 or under, Beilein might feel like he’s back at Michigan.
He may need that air of familiarity.
Cavs General Manager Koby Altman had already charged Beilein with developing young talent; that was one of the primary reasons Beilein was hired after 41 years in the college game. But on Thursday night, Altman threw Beilein into the deep end, making it clear that Beilein will be expected to begin working his magic immediately.
“The motivation is to give coach Beilein young talent from the start to develop those guys,” Altman said at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse as the NBA Draft wound down. “We want to utilize coach Beilein right now and give him youthful guys that he can develop right away. That’s the motivation to bring in three first-round picks … right now.”
That answer was repetitive, but the redundancy emphasized how urgently Altman wants to get the rebuild under way. Even though it began six games into last season, it felt as if the 2019 Draft was really the launch party.
They won’t be christening the boat’s bow for long.
For the second consecutive year, Altman used his first pick on a point guard who is weak defensively, selecting Vanderbilt freshman Darius Garland fifth overall. Garland played only five games last season before tearing the meniscus in his left knee against Kent State.
Trading for the 30th pick to take USC freshman guard Kevin Porter Jr., Altman handed Beilein a lottery-caliber talent who was suspended for two games last season for off-court conduct issues. Porter, 19, was four years old when his father was murdered in 2004.
Perhaps the safest selection was the 26th pick, Belmont University senior guard Dylan Windler, 22, whom Altman considered the best shooter in the draft. Altman said Windler came to Cleveland for a visit, watched film with Beilein and checked all of Beilein’s boxes.
“Dylan, great fit with two playmakers at the guard spots. Now you’re putting a great shooter on the wing and that spaces the floor, that compliments Kevin (Love), that compliments Larry (Nance). You’re definitely looking at it through the lens of what compliments coach’s system,” Altman said.
If that was a hint at the projected starting lineup, it didn’t include small forward Cedi Osman.
Acclimating Windler, even though he didn’t play in a Power 5 conference, may be the easy part.
The Cavs envision playing a two-guard front with Garland and Collin Sexton, the eighth pick a year ago, trying to replicate the success of the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
“We spoke to Collin before the draft and said, ‘This could happen,’” Altman said. “He was great. He had been studying Portland all playoffs and studying the two guards. He brought that up. He was like, ‘That can be us.’ These kids are so familiar with each other coming up, whether it be AAU, high school or college, so he’s familiar with Darius. Darius relished the opportunity as well. We knew those two were on board and it made it a lot easier.”
Being on board may not be enough. Altman’s comment in reference to Windler made it sound like Lillard and McCollum, Windler, Garland and Sexton, will be the keys to the Cavs’ vision for the future.
“He’s a dynamic talent, knows how to play the game,” Altman said of taking another point guard in Garland. “What makes this decision a lot easier is because of our head coach, he loves to play a two-guard front where you have playmakers on both sides because they both can really shoot and make plays off the bounce.”
Pity the Cavs’ assistant who primarily handles the defense, because the team that ranked last in the league a year ago didn’t add much help in that area. Porter, 6-foot-8 and 218 pounds, has the strong base and quick feet to get the job done, but ESPN.com described him as a “wildly inconsistent defender who shifts between energetic and lethargic.”
That same analysis raised a host of concerns about Porter.
“Engagement on and off the ball needs work. Emotional on the floor. Body language needs to improve. Questions among scouts about his work ethic,” ESPN.com wrote.
young NBA talent. Especially as he dives into deep, untested waters.