With the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select …
Nobody saw it coming—not the fans, not the pundits, probably not even some chief decision-makers in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ organization. And right up to the moment when NBA commissioner David Stern said his name, not even Anthony Bennett saw it coming.
Bennett—a one-man wrecking crew in his one and only season at UNLV last year—was most certainly going to be a Top 14 “lottery” pick, and a high one at that. But No. 1? Even in what was widely considered to be a watered-down draft, and even with his unique skill set as a big man who could shoot from the perimeter, Bennett couldn’t climb that high.
But he did. And after the 6-foot-8 forward ambled up the steps to the stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on June 27—a burgundy Cavaliers cap sharply contrasting against his gray suit—Bennett shook Stern’s hand and joined an exclusive fraternity of No. 1 overall NBA draft picks. A fraternity where the famous (Kareem, Magic, Olajuwon, Ewing, Shaq, LeBron) rub elbows with the infamous (Pervis, Olowokandi, Kwame, Oden).
There’s an immense sense of pride that comes with being the first player drafted in any professional sports league, not only for the draftee and his inner circle, but for the community that bore witness to the player’s amateur dominance. So when the Cavaliers selected the Canadian-born Bennett, who starred in high school at Findlay Prep before moving on to UNLV, we pumped our fists, too—just as we did when wunderkind Bryce Harper was the top pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft, and when Rebels legend Larry Johnson was taken No. 1 in the 1991 NBA Draft.
For years and years to come, the thought went on draft night, we’d be able to flip on the tube, watch Bennett drain a deep 3-pointer (perhaps with Kobe’s hand in his face!) or slam home a thunderous dunk (perhaps over LeBron!), and promptly (and proudly) Tweet something like, “AB doing his thing again! #SawThatBackInTheDay #RunninRebelsRepresenting.”
Except, well, nobody saw this coming, either: 15 consecutive missed shots to start his career … 28 misses in 32 attempts over his first nine games … Four “DNP’s” (Did Not Play) in the span of eight games from November 11-27 … Multiple national media outlets mocking Bennett and slamming the Cavs for “wasting” their No. 1 pick … Multiple rumors (all denied by Cleveland management) that Bennett would get demoted to the D-League (think minor leagues).
Look, there’s no sugarcoating it: The first month of Anthony Bennett’s NBA career was a disaster. He ended November averaging 2.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 11 minutes per game. Put another way, in his first 17 games, Bennett tallied 28 points. By comparison, Johnson—to whom Bennett was frequently likened during his one season at UNLV—averaged 15.4 points and scored in double figures 14 times in his first 17 NBA games (then did so in 64 of his final 65 games as a rookie).
Not surprisingly, given the current sports-media culture, there’s been a rush to carve the word “bust” into Bennett’s NBA headstone. Perhaps instead there should be a rush to dial up the definition of “perspective”: This is still a raw talent who took up the sport later in life than most prodigies; someone who was playing in a tiny Henderson gym two years ago; someone who can’t legally drink a beer for another three months; someone who’s been on the job for a few weeks.
Indeed, just as LeBron James’ Hall of Fame career wasn’t built in a month, neither was Michael Olowokandi’s Hall of Shame career. Translation: There’s still plenty of time for Bennett to justify the Cavs’ investment, to make his critics eat crow, to elbow his way into the exclusive part of that frat house where only guys like Kareem and Magic and Olajuwon are allowed.
In other words, there’s still time for UNLV fans to have the opportunity to fire off that aforementioned Tweet, punctuated by this addendum: #IToldYouSo!