For the first time in almost a month, I’m back! In this piece, you’ll find my reactions to many of the crazy happenings in the 2013 NBA Draft. This is the first part of several, as I find myself unable to keep my mouth shut even when talking about the Bobcats and Pelicans. Enjoy!
Anthony Bennett to the Cavaliers
“With the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select… Anthony Bennett of Toronto, Canada and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.”
“WHAT?!” was my first reaction to this selection. That said, it’s not all that surprising considering the organization behind the pick. Several times in the last few years, the Cavaliers have been unconventional in their drafting. Cleveland chose Texas PF Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick in 2011 and Syracuse SG Dion Waiters with the fourth in 2012. Each choice was considered a reach, and neither player has done all that much to disprove that thus far (It’s worth noting that both players improved toward the end of this year and showed some promise). Once the draft history of the Cavaliers is observed, though it was under a different general manager, it’s a wonder why nearly nobody predicted this craziness.
Bennett is a 6’8″, 261 lb. power forward who is widely regarded as the biggest boom-or-bust player in the 2013 draft. At UNLV, Bennett scored 16.1 points and collected 8.1 rebounds per game. Though his March Madness performance against Cal was less than stellar, he ended the college season with a considerable amount of hype and was projected to be a top ten pick in the draft.
Frankly, the pick doesn’t make much sense for Cleveland. The Cavs rehired Mike Brown, a noted defensive tactician, as their head coach this year in a clear attempt to refocus the team as they approach qualification for the playoffs. If this is indeed the route Chris Grant (Cleveland GM) is taking towards success, it makes next to no sense to pick Anthony Bennett in favor of Nerlens Noel. Noel’s defensive potential is limitless and he would greatly benefit from being paired with a coach like Brown. Additionally, Noel’s ACL injury is reportedly healing well, and it’s not likely that he’ll have any related issues in the future (If this is true, questions arise concerning why so many teams passed on him). Bennett is too small to ever easily defend NBA power forwards, and will require a great deal of work on the defensive end to reach mediocrity. He took possessions off at UNLV, frequently refusing to run back on defense and stay in front of his man. Bennett may very well end up being an offensive star, but Kyrie Irving and Waiters (both of whom struggle defensively) already provide a solid 1-2 punch on that end. Bennett’s skill set just doesn’t fit as well with the team as Noel’s or even Alex Len’s would have. Scorers are obviously important in the NBA, but if Bennett doesn’t improve his effort and basketball IQ dramatically on the defensive side of the ball, he may only achieve individual success in Cleveland.
Cody Zeller to the Bobcats
I’m guessing that fan reaction is not exactly what Michael Jordan and general manager Rich Cho were hoping for when they selected Indiana’s star center, Cody Zeller, with the fourth pick in the draft. Draft Express projected Zeller as the #10 pick to Philadelphia behind big men such as Noel and Len. While the Cavaliers made a surprising pick based on talent alone, it’s clear the ‘Cats were interested in making a safe selection that fit the positional needs of their team.
Gerald Henderson, the Bobcats’ starting shooting guard, is coming off the best season of his career. Picking Zeller over Kansas SG Ben McLemore is a clear endorsement of Henderson’s two-way talents, and an indication that Charlotte is comfortable with their young backcourt of Kemba Walker and Henderson moving forward. With confidence in those two and a good young SF in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the attention of the organization had to be placed on their troubling frontcourt. Bismack BIYOMBO (sic) and Byron Mullens can only take a team so far, and it’s clear the Bobcats sought improvement in this area. The ‘Cats should have chosen Nerlens Noel if they wanted to replace BIYOMBO, but Bismack is just entering his third year in the league with very solid defensive potential in his own right. Mullens has never been a very productive player on either end of the floor, which made it very easy for Charlotte to let him drift into free agency and select a big man in his place.
With faith in BIYOMBO, I’d imagine this decision came down to a choice between Len, out of Maryland, and Zeller. Len is more of a back-to-the-basket, post-up big man, while Zeller thrives in transition and possesses a better 18-foot jumpshot than Len. For the needs of the Bobcats, Zeller is clearly the better pick. Len and BIYOMBO would create an extremely crowded interior on offense, while Zeller allows Charlotte to create more space for Walker/Henderson/MKG to operate. As mentioned before, Zeller is also an excellent big man in transition. Walker, one of the quickest guards in the league, will surely love having someone to catch alley-oops and set huge screens early in the shot clock. Though the potential of Zeller isn’t as high as Len or Noel, this selection makes more sense than either of the two bigs with leg injuries would have.
Nerlens Noel to the Pelicans, Traded to the Sixers for Jrue Holiday
Lest you think the draft would calm down at all after the first 5 picks, the Philadelphia 76ers and newly-dubbed New Orleans Pelicans made what looked initially to be the biggest blockbuster move of the night (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). When David Stern announced that Nerlens Noel would be selected by the Pelicans, dreams of a frontcourt bolstered by 2012 #1 pick Anthony Davis and Noel immediately came to fruition in the minds of NBA fans everywhere. There are few shot-blockers as good as Davis in the league, even at his young age, and Noel is projected to be just as much of a force. Unfortunately for defensive enthusiasts, rumors of Noel being traded to Philadelphia quickly became reality as the big man was dealt (along with the 2014 first round pick of the Pelicans) for Philly’s budding star, PG Jrue Holiday. Holiday is coming off a year in which he made a big jump statistically, becoming the leader of the team, an All Star, and finishing ranked third in the league in assists.
The Sixers recently hired a new general manager, Sam Hinkie, and he is evidently not afraid to deal proven talent in an effort to escape the dreaded middle class of the NBA. By trading Holiday for Noel, Hinkie is electing to throw away the upcoming season and hope that he can find a franchise player in the 2014 draft with two picks in the lottery (it’s unlikely that the Pelicans will make the playoffs next year, even with Holiday). The Sixers used their pick this year (#11) to select Michael Carter-Wiliams, a point guard out of Syracuse. With young, raw replacements for both Holiday and Andrew Bynum (who never played for the Sixers anyway), the only thing certain about the Sixers’ future is uncertainty.
Though many players in the draft (Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, and Trey Burke, to name a few) are considered “safe picks”, this trade involve prospects that carry a great amount of ambiguity. Nobody knows whether Noel will be able to turn into a monster, as Bob touched on here, and nobody knows whether Michael Carter-Williams will be able to cut down on turnovers and find a jump shot in the NBA. As of now, New Orleans obviously made out well in this deal, finding a great young point guard to spearhead their rebuilding process going forward. That said, giving up a first round pick in next year’s talented draft could prove to be a shortsighted move. The only way to properly evaluate this trade at all will be 2-4 years in the future, by which time Noel, MCW, and the 2014 lottery picks will be making their imprint on the league.