(originally published on my friend @davismattek 's website at http://sportswunderkind.com/anthony-bennett-number-one/ )
As a vocal advocate of Nerlens Noel, you’d think I view this draft as a failure for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And as my reaction-tweet to the first overall pick last night shows, initially, it was a view of failure “no no no no no”. But after I took a deep breathe and refocused my thoughts, I remember how much I liked Anthony Bennett. Exhibit A: https://twitter.com/KidCutskey/status/296369601200156672 https://twitter.com/KidCutskey/status/296370353138171905
Before Cleveland had the first pick and had the opportunity to draft Noel, I was all aboard the Bennett bandwagon. At 6’8”, 240 pounds (although he’s currently at 260 because of a surgery he had that kept him fairly inactive) with good athleticism, great shooting range and touch, and a scorers mentality, he offers Cleveland something that they haven’t had, and wouldn’t have gotten from Nerlens; versatility.
Anyone who watched the playoffs (and the finals in particular) saw the need to not only to be able to go small, but to also play big. Miami and San Antonio’s small ball lineups put up huge numbers, but because of important bigs like Tiago Splitter, Roy Hibbert, David West, and of course, Timmy, the Heat were pushed to a game 7 in two straight series.
The Cavaliers, with a healthy Anderson Varejao (and likely a veteran FA center signing) have the ability to play big. But any small lineup the past two years would either involve Alonzo Gee, C.J. Miles, or Luke Walton playing the four. And that just… isn’t good. That’s where Bennett comes in. He can come off the bench and be an instant stretch four who will help Cleveland with floor spacing (which it desperately needs) and will add more athleticism to their lineup. This then allows either Tristan Thompson, Varejao, or Tyler Zeller to play center. TT at the five makes for one of the most interesting Cleveland lineups possible, as there wouldn’t be a player on the court taller than 6’9”. The five-man group of Irving-Waiters-Karasev-Bennett-Thompson is something that could play for stretches and has huge offensive potential, similar to those Spurs and Heat lineups we saw in the finals.
If the Cavs take Nerlens Noel? Now they have three centers and a power forward who all can’t stretch the floor. This is so crucial to success in the NBA today that it’s worth reaching for a player who, despite being a clear top 5 talent, was probably going to go between picks 6-8. Noel would have added awesome defense inside, but with the hiring of Mike Brown as the new head coach, they might not be as concerned about acquiring elite defensive talent, but instead developing the players they have into the best possible defenders they can be. Think of Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. Other than Joakim Noah, there wasn’t really a Bull who people considered to be an excellent defender. But he turned guys like Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli into plus defensive guys (in his system), so why can’t Mike Brown do the same thing with the talent in Cleveland? When Brown was head coach previously for the Cavs, the best defensive player was Anderson Varejao, and it wasn’t really close. Andy is quite clearly a better player now than he was two to three years ago (again, when healthy) so there’s no reason to believe that they can’t reach near the same levels of great team defense once more without the aid of an elite defender like Nerlens.
The pick of Anthony Bennett shocked the basketball world. He might not start a game all year long. But given the situation Cleveland was put in, with the pick they had and the players that were available, I truly believe that Chris Grant & co. made the right call. And while they would have liked to trade down and simply grab him at a lower pick, the return teams were asking back for their offers would have taken the Cavs out of the running for Karasev, whom I’m in love with. So hats off to Cleveland management for making one hell of a ballsy move. I’m obviously a little biased when I say that I hope it works out, but it’s not just for the benefit of seeing my team do well. But if this pick pans out, then the Cavs are one freaking exciting team to watch.