The Cleveland Cavaliers wanted a player who could contribute immediately, and they might have found that in Thursday’s NBA Draft at Barclays Center.
With the 14th overall pick, the Cavaliers selected Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji.
The 22-year-old Agbaji started in all 39 games this past season as a senior at Kansas, averaging a Big-12 leading 18.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in a team-high 35.0 minutes. Agbaji finished second in the Big-12 in three-point percentage (.409) and three-point field goals made per game (2.64). He helped lead Kansas to its fourth national championship in program history and was named the 2022 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
The 6-5 guard also finished as a 2021-22 consensus All-American First Team selection and the 2021-22 Big 12 Player of the Year.
“First off, I just want to thank the organization and Cleveland for drafting me, believing in me,” Agbaji said Thursday night. “I’m going to give you 110 percent every single day and a positive attitude. That’s really all. I’m just going to be a hard worker, come in, be humble, and represent my city well.”
Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman wanted a player who could contribute right away and be a solid fit for the team, and he feels they’ve gotten that with Agbaji.
“This was more about who can come in and really help us, help this team achieve,” Altman said after the selection. “It was a different process in terms of trying to find the most upside swing talent versus who can be the best fit. Certainly more of a finished product than what we’ve drafted in the past.”
Agbaji’s coach at Kansas, Bill Self, credits his work ethic and believes Agbaji will be in the NBA for a long time.
“To see the natural progression that’s taken place and to see him being a guy that is going to make a lot of money playing this game for a long time when he wasn’t projected to do that, it’s been special to watch,” Self said before the draft. “And he deserves all the credit because there’s nobody that works like him.”
This selection shows that the Cavs want to make the playoffs now. No more developmental picks; they were a game away from the playoffs and wanted to ensure that they had enough to get into the postseason.
With Agbaji, the Cavs have a guy who is a solid defender, decent athlete, and a good shooter. Many believe he is your prototypical 3-and-D guy, which should help the Cavs immediately.
In the second round, Cleveland selected center Khalifa Diop with the 39th pick out of Senegal, forward Isaiah Mobley with the 49th pick out of USC, and forward Luke Travers with the 56th pick out of Australia.
Diop (7-1, 240) appeared in 49 games for Gran Canaria in Spain, averaging 6.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15.7 minutes. Diop was the winner of the 2021-22 EuroCup Rising Star Trophy, which honors the best under-22 player in the EuroCup. The Senegalese center also represented Senegal at the 2021 FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup, averaging 14.0 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks.
Mobley (6-10, 240) appeared in 32 games (all starts) as a sophomore for USC this past season, averaging team-highs in points (14.2) and rebounds (8.3) in 34.0 minutes. Mobley started in all 64 of his career games for the Trojans and held career averages of 12.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. His brother Evan Mobley was an NBA All-Rookie First Team selection for the Cavaliers this past season and was selected with the 3rd pick by the Cavaliers in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Travers (6-7, 208) played in 27 games (six starts) for the Perth Wildcats in the Australian NBL, averaging 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 22.0 minutes. Travers appeared in 71 NBL games for Perth over three seasons with the club.