By Benjamin Hoffman / New York Times
IN the final National Basketball Association (NBA) draft he presided over, in 2013, David Stern, then the league’s commissioner, shocked the crowd at Barclays Center when he announced that the Cleveland Cavaliers had taken Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. A 6-foot-8 power forward who had played one year at Nevada-Las Vegas, Bennett was a surprise selection over Nerlens Noel and other top prospects.
Shortly after the pick, Bennett sat in front of the assembled members of the news media and tried to make sense of it all.
“I’m just as surprised as everyone else,” said Bennett, the first No. 1 pick from Canada.
While many people tried to justify the pick, it quickly proved to be a huge mistake. On Monday the Brooklyn Nets announced that they had waived him after he had played 23 games for the team, averaging five points and 3.4 rebounds. They became the fourth team in four years to give up on Bennett is quickly rising on the list of biggest busts in NBA history.
Such lists are generally led by Greg Oden, Kwame Brown, LaRue Martin and Michael Olowokandi. Like Bennett, they were No. 1 picks.
The term “bust” is subjective, of course, but in terms of on-court production, Bennett is 64th in win shares among the 65 No. 1 picks since 1950 who have played in an NBA game. (Win shares is a player statistic that assigns credit for team success to individuals.) The only player with fewer win shares than Bennett’s 0.5 was Mark Workman, who was taken by Milwaukee with the first pick in 1952, when the draft was much more of a crapshoot. Contrast that with Oden, who, despite his injuries, managed 7.3 win shares in three partial seasons.
Bennett was not quite an unknown when he was drafted by Cleveland, as he had shown up on lists of top 10 prospects. Even so, few considered him a legitimate option at No. 1.
Since then, even among only his peers in the 2013 draft class, Bennett has stood out for a lack of performance. In terms of win shares, he ranks 39th out of the 51 players in that class who have appeared in an NBA game. While that class’s best performers have proved thus far to be Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz (22.6 win shares, taken with the 27th pick) and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (21, 15th), Bennett is outranked even by lesser-known players, like Reggie Bullock (1.6, 25th), Nate Wolters (1.0, 38th) and Sergey Karasev (0.8, 19th).
Bennett is 23 and could have other chances to succeed. The argument that he is a larger bust than someone like Oden relies less on who was taken after him than his lack of production when he was on the court. Oden, infamously taken ahead of Kevin Durant, was felled by injuries, but when healthy, he was effective. Bennett, meanwhile, has found his way into 151 NBA games, 46 more than Oden, yet he has scored in double figures in only 16 games and managed 10 or more rebounds in only six.
Should nothing change, the biggest positive in drafting Bennett might be that he was one of the pieces, along with Andrew Wiggins, which the Cavaliers used to acquire Kevin Love and team him with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. So in a sense, Bennett contributed to a future championship for the Cavaliers, even if he was no longer there.
FANS HAVE THEIR SAY
WITH the NBA All-Star Game a little more than a month away, more than 11 million votes have cast to send fans’ favorite players to New Orleans.
But even as fans are voting more enthusiastically than they did in 2016, their power is diminished this season. In 2017 for the first time, players and the news media will also have a role in choosing the All-Star starters.
That means that the players who will fill out the starting lineups in February will most likely be more logical choices than if the selections were strictly left to fans.
For instance, if fans had their way after one week of voting, Dwyane Wade would be an All-Star starter. Wade is having a solid season. But his statistics are not even as good as those of his Chicago Bulls backcourt partner Jimmy Butler, let alone someone like Russell Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double for the Oklahoma City Thunder and whom fans neglected to vote in as a starter in the West in the first wave of voting.
Affection for Wade looks reasonable when compared with the support Golden State’s journeyman center, Zaza Pachulia, has received. Pachulia, who is averaging 5.3 points and 5.7 rebounds a game, was the second-most popular frontcourt player in the West, receiving more votes in the first week than stars like Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s not the first time Pachulia, who hails from the republic of Georgia, has been a front-runner: Last season, while on the Dallas Mavericks, he nearly became a starter when a campaign spearheaded by his countrymen won him 768,112 votes.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said this year upon learning that his fans had turned out again.
The players and the news media should be able to keep Pachulia out of the game, which, perhaps, will prevent Charles Barkley from blowing his top, the way he did last year.