CLEVELAND (AP) — Ochai Agbaji developed championship DNA in college.
The Cavaliers are counting on it staying with him in the pros.
Looking to add a perimeter player who can shoot, defend and maybe accelerate their timeline to NBA title contention, Cleveland selected Agbaji with the No. 14 overall pick in the draft on Thursday night.
Later, the Cavs used the No. 49 pick — acquired in a trade earlier in the day from Sacramento — to select Isaiah Mobley, the older brother of forward Evan Mobley, whose arrival in Cleveland last season triggered the team’s turnaround.
The Mobleys played one season together at USC, and will now have the chance to do it again with the Cavs.
With other options available in the first round, including Ohio State’s Malaki Branham and Duke’s A.J. Griffin, the Cavs locked in on the 6-foot-5 Agbaji, who as a senior led Kansas to the NCAA title last season.
Agbaji was named the most outstanding player at the Final Four, and his performance in the spotlight helped separate him from other players.
The Cavs are ready win.
Agbaji knows how.
“It’s a part of his makeup and he’s coming in to a team that wants to win and he’s going to bring some unique ingredients to that,” said Koby Altman, Cleveland’s president of basketball operations. “You’re seeing national champions kind of sprinkled in these conference finals most recently and they definitely bring a chip with them. We hope he brings that to us.”
The 22-year-old Agbaji averaged 18.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and made 41-percent of his 3-pointers for the Jayhawks, and his ability as a defender was another factor in the Cavs’ decision to bring him aboard.
He’ll join one of the league’s most intriguing young rosters in Cleveland, and a team with playoff aspirations following a turnaround 44-win season.
The Cavs entered the offseason desperate to add another quality shooter, and believe they’ve found one.
“He can really shoot,” Altman said. “He’s got a really quick trigger. You can run him off screens. The shooting piece was important. “The fact he can play wing, the fact he can guard wing is great. I don’t know if that went into it so much as the need for shooting. I don’t want to put him on a pedestal and say, ‘This is the next great wing that we draft.’ But maybe it is.
“I do know that he fits a need right away and he’s going to compete and he has that winning pedigree that we really like.”
The Cavs entered the draft with four picks.
Cleveland, which already had the Nos. 39 and 56 picks, added No. 49 from the Kings in exchange for the draft rights to Sasha Vezenkov and $1.75 million.
At No. 39, the Cavs selected center Khalifa Diop, a 7-footer from Senegal.
He’s expected to stay overseas and develop before trying to crack Cleveland’s roster.
With its final pick (No. 56), Cleveland took Australian wing Luke Travers.
After picking in the top five in each of the past three drafts, the Cavs weren’t under as much pressure to land a potential All-Star — or even an immediate-impact player this year.
They could be more selective.
Cleveland was diligent during the pre-draft process.
There were several players who fit their needs, but Agbaji stood out due to his offensive skill set, a 6-foot-10 wing span, and because he’s coming from one of college basketball’s premiere programs.
“He just fit the character and the attitude and the work ethic that we’ve been looking for,” Altman said. “This is the first time we’ve drafted a national champion right out of the gate. He brings a lot of accolades, but he brings a humbleness that we appreciate.”
Kansas coach Bill Self said the Cavs are getting a player who still has room to grow his game.
“His intangibles have improved so much with competitiveness, even though he always was,” Self said on a Zoom call from New York. “He’s learned there’s a gear you got to get to to compete at the highest level. When you work as hard as he does in that fifth gear every single possession, every single drill, every single shot, you’re going to get better.”
A 22-win jump last season has vaulted the Cavs back into contending status.
They’ve got one of the league’s most promising young cores, highlighted by All-Star guard Darius Garland and Mobley, last year’s No. 3 overall pick who had a strong rookie year.
Cleveland was in position to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 2018.
However, the Cavs, who were overrun by injuries throughout the year, collapsed down the stretch, losing eight of their last 11 — and then to Brooklyn and Atlanta in the play-in format.
Cavs add second-round pick,
acquire No. 49 from Kings
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers made their first move before the NBA draft tipped off.
Adding another asset to perhaps use to bolster its roster, Cleveland acquired the No. 49 selection from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for the rights to forward Sasha Vezenkov and $1.75 million.
The deal, which was finalized hours ahead of Thursday’s draft, gave the Cavs four picks — No. 14 and three second-rounders, Nos. 39, 49 and 56.
After winning just 22 games in 2020-21, the Cavs went 44-38 last season under coach J.B. Bickerstaff and barely missed the playoffs.
They made the play-in tournament, but lost to Brooklyn and Atlanta.
This year is the first time the Cavs haven’t drafted in the top 5 since 2018.
Vezenkov was acquired in 2021 from Brooklyn, as part of the three-team trade that brought All-Star center Jarrett Allen to Cleveland.
The Nets drafted Vezenkov with the 57th pick in 2017.
option on Wade
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers exercised the fourth-year contract option on forward Dean Wade, who made 28 starts last season and became a solid contributor during the team’s resurgence.
The Cavs announced the move with Wade on Wednesday.
Wade averaged 5.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 19.2 minutes in 51 games last season before suffering a knee injury and undergoing surgery.
He missed the final 15 games.
The 6-foot-9 Wade had been valuable as a fill-in starter, and the Cavs missed him down the stretch.
Cleveland dropped eight of its last 11 games in the regular season, and then lost both play-in games.
However, the Cavs had a 22-win improvement from the previous season and are expected to contend next season with Wade in their rotation.
He gives the Cavs depth, along with size and another outside shooter.
Wade made 43-percent (21-of-49) of his 3-pointers in his last 12 starts.
The former Kansas State standout has appeared in 126 games over three seasons with Cleveland, which signed him to a two-way contract in 2019.