NBA Draft Review: How Chris Grant decided on Anthony Bennett

There were six guys that were the general consensus top six guys available in the 2013 NBA Draft. The job of Chris Grant and his staff was to whittle that list down till they arrived on one guy to take with the No. 1 overall pick. In the end they landed on Anthony Bennett from UNLV to be the Cavaliers’ pick. Let’s explore what may have been the thought process that they used to arrive at that choice.

First of all, despite what many bloggers may have thought, there was no one outstanding player in this draft. There were a lot of voices yelling since the Cavs won the lottery that there was no one who should be considered beside Nerlens Noel because he had the most upside and potential. Evidently all those people were wrong. A combination of his ACL injury, weight, limited offensive game, and maybe some character concerns caused Noel to get passed over by the five teams at the top of the draft. They can all be wrong, but it’s not often that that happens. There was enough of a reason for each of those to look at Noel and say “No, thanks.”

This year’s draft prospects from the end of the college was a class of six guys: Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Nerlens Noel, and Otto Porter. When Chad Ford put out his annual “Draft tiers” column where he polls NBA GM’s and scouts to get a feel for how they rank the players he left the top two tiers blank meaning that there are no guys projected as future All-Stars. Ford noted that Noel, Bennett and McLemore all got some votes for tier two but not enough to make them a consensus there. So this landed all six of those prospects in tier three.

At this point, any of those guys were an option. And while on this point, there’s no such thing as a “reach” as long as they took one of those six guys. There’s not enough separating those guys to make it a big deal that you’d take one over the other. All discussions of a “reach” are unfounded and misinformed. Some have also made the suggestion that the Cavs should have traded back and still could have gotten Bennett or one of the other guys. The obvious problem with that scenario is that you have to have someone to trade down with. Evidently because all of these guys were about equal no one was willing to give up anything significant to move up. I originally thought right before the pick that they’d take Noel and try to trade him. The problem with doing that is no one wanted him. The Pelicans ended up taking him at No. 6 and then trading him to Philadelphia. From the rumors we heard all the way up till the pick it appears that the Cavs were trying really hard to make a trade. But in the end, Grant must have decided that it was better to stay where they were at No. 1 and make the selection for themselves as opposed to taking a deal with limited assets and having the decision dictated for them by what other teams do. And I’m fine with that.

Grant said last night that they narrowed their choice down to a few guys on Wednesday night and then at some point on Thursday morning they narrowed it down to Bennett. Grant talked a lot in his presser about improving the talent on the team. To me that’s what probably eliminated Porter. He’s a very good basketball player and a guy I really like. But he’s very limited athletically and he might have a hard time guarding the super athletic small forwards in the NBA. In college he did a great job guarding 4’s but he’ll have a harder time doing that in the pros. Additionally, he’s not a guy who can get his own shot whenever he wants. The talent level of Porter wasn’t good enough to warrant the pick.

I think that there probably were some very real concerns about the injury issues around Len and Noel. I don’t have any sources on that, I’m just reading into it. While they might have been medically cleared as being on the right track to recovery those are injuries that can be recurring and ultimately debilitating, especially in big guys. The Cavs organization has had to deal with their fair share of injuries over the years from their best players. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had all of his foot surgeries that really killed what could have been a great NBA career. Kyrie Irving has missed more games than they’d like in his two seasons with various injuries. And the team’s current center, Anderson Varejao, has only played a season’s worth of games in the past three years. There may have been enough of a concern with those injuries to warrant passing on them. With Noel there’s also all the other issues that I’ve continued to harp on for the past month. I didn’t want Noel and of the six guys he was the one guy I was truly concerned about. I’m glad they passed on him.

The guy that I did want was Len. But I can’t be upset for the Cavs passing on him. Bad teammates and poor system aside, he didn’t dominate in college. There were times where he wasn’t assertive enough and didn’t dominate inferior competition given his size and ability. When you get it narrowed down to six guys who you like, you have to nit-pick about things that you don’t like and weigh those against each other. For all the short-comings that people might bring up about Bennett, you can’t say that he doesn’t bring it all the time. And as much as I am in love with Len’s talent and potential to be a franchise center, I can’t say the same about him.

That brings the Cavs’ options down to Bennett, McLemore, and Oladipo. The thing that’s interesting about each of those guys is that they all play a position currently held by a top pick from the previous two drafts: Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. I don’t think that mattered at all to Grant. He’s been all about amassing talent and taking the best players, regardless of how they fit.

It may have been character concerns that made McLemore slide in the draft like Noel. It may have also been his passiveness in big moments in games or his inability to get his own shot. As great of a shooter as he is there’s no denying that in the NBA guards who aren’t great dribblers have a tough time getting their own shot. Again, you have nit-pick to narrow the choice. But that is a very real issue. The Cavs like guards who can handle the rock and create offense (see Irving and Waiters) and that’s not McLemore.

I really like Oladipo who ended up going No. 2 to the Magic. The guy plays hard all the time, is long and super athletic and has continued to improve his game all three years in college. Some people have wondered how his offensive game will translate to the NBA and whether his improved shooting percentage will be sustainable. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that the Cavs final choice came down to Oladipo and Bennett.

In the end they chose Bennett, a guy who hustles like crazy and is an absolute brute on the offensive end. He’s built like a tank, can run the floor, play above the rim, and shoot it from the outside. He was what they deemed to be the most talented player in a draft that was devoid of elite, superstar players.

The rebuilding of the Cavs has been about adding talent, not necessarily filling in spots in the starting lineup. From here Grant and the Cavs have options. They can allow all the young pieces to grow and develop together into what is a playoff and hopefully championship contending team. Or they can wait for the opportune time to flip some of these players in a trade for an established superstar player. You never know when players like that will become available. No one knew last summer that the Thunder would trade James Harden when they did. But the Rockets amassed enough assets to make a move for star and jumped at the opportunity. Expect Grant to explore all his options over the next couple years. If there’s a chance to add a great player like Harden he’ll no doubt take it.

For the time being I’m excited to watch this basketball team. They’re loaded with young talent and very likeable charismatic players. We’ve had to endure a lot of losing the past three years. Things are going to take a turn. The additions of Bennett and Sergey Karasev will be a big part in what finds this team back in the playoffs and contending.

Enjoy the ride…and go Cavs!

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