Having successful drafts is crucial and essential for any team in professional sports. While scouts certainly aren’t noticed by name, they are a vital part of any team. In today’s NBA, they are even more important given the current Super Team Era, where stars rarely stay in small-to-mid market cities unless they have hometown roots. There are only so many Los Angeles, Bostons, and New Yorks, among a few others, in this country. Given that Cleveland is not a destination city for many, including big-name free agents in sports, scouts and drafts mean even more to teams in cities such as Cleveland.
Picking the right (or wrong) guy(s) is the difference between competing for a spot in the postseason and even for a championship or continuing the rebuilding process and staying in the basement of the league for years to come. Outside of the LeBron James Era (both 1.0 and 2.0), the Cleveland Cavaliers have found that out the hard way. Since drafting LeBron in 2003, the Cavs are 560-342 in 11 seasons with No. 23 donning the wine and gold; they are just 116-261 in the five seasons without him in that same time period.1 Having one of the best players to ever dribble a basketball be born in Northeast Ohio is certainly a blessing, but without him, they must have success in the NBA Draft every single year, at least with their first pick. That’s the only way for a small-market team to be successful in the current landscape of the NBA.
While the recent first-round draft selections of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter Jr. could very well all workout, with the latter seemingly having the highest ceiling of the trio, with the NBA (and essentially all sports in the world) currently on hiatus, I take a look back at the 2013 NBA Draft, one that was filled with so much talent but the Cavs decided to take one of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history: Anthony Bennett.
“A scorer.” “An athletic big man.” “A forward with a high ceiling.” “A gamechanger.”
Those were just some of the many sentiments that mock drafts used to describe the former UNLV standout, who in just one season as a Rebel, averaging 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, one assist, and 1.2 blocks while shooting 53.3% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range in 27.1 minutes a game during his freshman season.
Yet, even though those mock drafts said those things about Bennett, not a single one of the handful that I went back and looked at had Bennett as a top-3 pick, let alone No. 1. While looking back in the WFNY archives, former WFNY writer Jacob Rosen had a number of posts about the 2013 NBA Draft. In this Big Board Roundup, he discussed the top-5 players in the roundup he conducted. Bennett was No. 6.
When the Cavs announced the 6-foot-8, 245-pound big man as their pick to begin the draft, it caught many people by surprise. Flustered, in awe, shocked…whatever it was, the majority of Cavaliers fans weren’t happy. There was a reason for that, one that Cleveland inevitably found out the hard way as they watched Bennett’s short, disappointing career come to an end and one that many saw coming even though the Cavs believed that Bennett was the best player in the 2013 draft.
In just one season with the Cavs, Bennett averaged 4.2 points and three rebounds while shooting 35.6% from the field and 24.5% from beyond the arc in just 52 games (zero starts). It led to Cleveland including in the trade that brought Kevin Love to the wine and gold in the first season of LeBron’s second tenure in The Land. You could argue that the former UNLV big man’s biggest contribution was the fact that he brought Love to the Cavs, even if he was just a throw-in in the trade that was centered around Andrew Wiggins and Love. To say that the selection of Bennett was a disappointment would most likely be quite an understatement. Luckily, LeBron returning to the Cavaliers certainly eased the pain and put an end to the rebuilding process, but imagine if he didn’t. Selecting Bennett No. 1 overall would have delayed the rebuild for years.
With that, I’m here to take a look back at the 2013 NBA Draft and what could have been, a draft that included a number of All-Stars, one of the best players currently in the NBA, and a number of role players, all of which the Cavaliers past over to take a player that no one thought would be the No. 1 pick, a player that played in just 151 games (four starts) during a short four-year stint in the league between 2013-17.
Of the 60 draft picks in 2013, 40 have played at least 1,000 minutes in the NBA. Bennett’s 1,905 minutes ranks 36th in the class. His 658 points also rank 36th. In case you still weren’t disappointed with the fallout of that draft, here is a list of some of the top players that were selected in 2013:2
There are some very obvious answers when it comes to who, as a Cavs fan, I wish my favorite NBA team would have drafted: Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most glaring answer, but hometown kid CJ McCollum would have been nice as well. But, Victor Oladipo, Dennis Schroder, Rudy Gobert, and Steven Adams would have been solid additions as well, among a few others.
Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but even looking back at mock drafts, there are still a number of players that would have been nice additions to the Cavs in the 2013 NBA Draft. If we were to look back at mocks, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, and Oladipo were three of the names that were projected by many to be selected atop the draft, with the latter being my favorite and a guy I wish the Cavs would have selected.
While the Greek Freak would have been nice, he wasn’t a top-5 selection in virtually any mock draft, so that’s pretty farfetched to think that Cleveland should have taken him at No. 1. Then again, if they had superb scouts, maybe they would have seen the potential in the kid that came from Greece.
This isn’t a “Hate on the Cavs for picking Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in 2013” piece, it’s just one that shows the importance of picking the right player(s) in the draft, especially for a small-market, non-free-agent-destination team like Cleveland. If you’re a team like the Cavs, you can’t afford to miss on a No. 1 pick as they did in 2013, let alone select one of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history. There was plenty of talent in that draft, yet the Cavaliers selected a guy that lasted just four seasons in the NBA while there are plenty of players that are still starters in the league.
In the Post-LeBron 2.0 Era of the Cavs, the organization must have success in the draft. Given the current Super Team landscape of the NBA, the only way the wine and gold could really be a playoff contender is if they succeed in the draft (especially with their top-10 picks) and sign a player or two once they believe they are contenders. Contending for a top spot in the league might be very farfetched, but as the Toronto Raptors proved in 2019, it’s certainly possible if you draft the right guys and then once you’re a legitimate contender, trade for a star.
If the Cavs were smart, they would follow the exact template that the Raptors used, one that has led to plenty of success even though Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard in free agency. It consists of getting the right guy, even in the second round of the NBA Draft. The Cavaliers scouts are important now more than ever, as we will continue to realize and have realized already. As Cleveland fans, we don’t have another LeBron to bail out our favorite NBA team, so it comes down to success in the NBA Draft and not being able to afford another pick like Bennett. Sexton, Garland, and Porter are certainly a good start given the bad luck the Cavaliers have had in the new-look NBA Draft Lottery, but it’s vitally important to continue that success during this rebuilding process.
The Cavs current rebuild could last just a couple years or for the foreseeable future, it all just comes down to scouting and being able to find the right player(s) to draft and staying away from drafting a player that turns into a bust. Cleveland has found that out the hard way. It’s just important that they don’t do it again.