Anthony Bennett

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Former Cavs’ GM David Griffin on drafting Anthony Bennett No. 1: “You f–k up sometimes”

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“This is a SHOCKER. Nobody had this.”

That is what I wrote in our instant draft analysis back in 2013 when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett No. 1. Bennett was considered a lottery pick by most teams, but teams had him more in the 7-13 range. Out of UNLV, Bennett was an athletic guy with a lot of questions. It wasn’t a great draft, but the Cavaliers took Bennett in front of Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Nerlens Noel, C.J. McCollum, and Ben McLemore, to name a few. We all know what happened from there, Bennett played just 151 games across four NBA seasons and is already out of the league (he was in training camp with the Suns this year but was released). He is the poster child of a draft bust.

Former Cavs’ GM David Griffin — who was the No. 2 guy behind Chris Grant back in 2013 in Cleveland — owns up to the mistake in Jason Lloyd of The Athletic’s new book  The Blueprint: LeBron James, Cleveland’s Deliverance and the Making of the Modern NBA. An excerpt is up at the Athletic.

So when the Cavs front office sat down before the draft to cast their vote on who to take, the final tally was 9-1 in favor of Bennett. The one vote against taking him? Chris Grant…

“The issue with Anthony was, and we had no way of knowing it at the time, the kid had no desire to overcome adversity whatsoever. As soon as it was hard, he was out,” Griffin explained to Lloyd. “His whole life, he rolled out of bed bigger, better, and more talented than everybody else. As soon as it was hard, it was over. And I was the one on campus at UNLV. I’m the one who got sold the bill of goods and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. You f–k up sometimes. But I feel bad Chris took it for that, because Chris was the one guy who wasn’t sure.”

Talking to people around a draftable player and getting a sense of their drive and work ethic is one of the most important — and most challenging — parts of being a GM. Just like for students in school or the rest of us in everyday life, grit and determination matter more than talent. The greatest have both — Michael Jordan personifies it, but from Bill Russell through LeBron James everyone in the pantheon has both — but there are a lot of guys in the NBA now who have some talent and a lot of grit, and were willing to put in the work needed to become an NBA player. J.J. Redick had the shooting skills in college, but he reshaped his body and his game to become a quality NBA two guard, and he’s just one of many examples.

Not knowing Bennett lacked grit is on the Cavaliers’ staff, but it’s always hard to predict. Projecting the future of any 19-year-old at anything is next to impossible, and that doesn’t change if you’re doing the research before making a multi-million dollar investment. He might have put in the work in college, but things changed.

(Hat Tip Bleacher Report)

Markelle Fultz: Free-throw form temporary, result of shoulder injury

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DETROIT – I spent the day wondering the best way to ask No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz about his suddenly deformed shooting stroke. I wanted to be respectful and empathetic and mostly just not blurt out, “What’s wrong with you?”

After answering a few questions about his shot, Fultz himself brought up that he’s aware of all the “rumors” about his free throws. Sounding comfortable and confident – working against a popular theory that he has the yips – Fultz explained a shoulder injury is still hindering him. As soon as his shoulder heals, he’ll return to the form he used at Washington, where he made 65% of his free throws.

“I do what I’ve got to do to get the ball on the rim,” said Fultz, who’s 6-of-12 from the line this season (50%).

Fultz was less direct about his jumper.

He can shoot 3-pointers right now, he insists. But after attempting more than five per game in college, he has taken no shots from at least 15 feet – let alone beyond the arc – in 76 NBA minutes.

Though he professed confidence in his open jumper, even his close-range jumpers are a mess. He’s 3-of-16 from outside five feet, and shooting just 33% overall.

More jarring are the shots he isn’t taking. A smooth mid-range operator and aggressive shot hunter at Washington, Fultz looks like a shell of himself. He sometimes drives, mostly to set up teammates, and he sets screens. But his biggest strengths have been neutered.

As a result, defenses can sag off him, and the 76ers’ offense has crated with him on the court. They’ve scored a woeful 80.4 points per 100 possessions when he plays. Rotations aren’t to blame, either. No matter which teammate Fultz is paired with, during the duo’s minutes together, Philadelphia has scored at what would have been a league-worst rate last season.

Yet, the 1-3 76ers continue to play Fultz at least a third of each game. They’re trying to win for the first time since The Process began, but they also have young talent like Fultz to groom.

“There’s no book that tells you how to combine win and develop,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “They are very mutually exclusive.

“Normally, the link is you’ve got to play them and you’ve got to live with some stuff.”

Fultz said he isn’t worried about developing bad habits while shooting through his shoulder injury. Neither is Brown, who has consulted with medical personnel.

“Nobody has any fears,” Brown said. “…You don’t just walk a certain way for a long period of your life and all of a sudden start to limp.”

But it’s not so easy to dispel doubt for several reasons:

  • As the No. 1 pick, Fultz receives outsized attention. Even coming off the bench to begin his career, joining the ranks of Anthony Bennett and Andrea Bargnani, immediately generated pessimism.
  • Because the Celtics traded the No. 1 pick while Fultz was the consensus choice, many Boston fans are openly rooting for Fultz to fail. Not because they hold any specific ill will toward him, but just because they want their team to be right.
  • Point guards drafted after Fultz – Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. – are off to much better starts to their careers.
  • Teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who had a triple-double in his fourth game, are balling. Fultz is the weak link of Philadelphia’s young three-headed core.
  • Fultz, against the 76ers’ wishes, reworked his jumper over the offseason. That’s what makes it so hard to completely discount the possibility of a larger mental block.

So, the articles of concern are rolling in. Jokes are being cracked about his Shaq-esque free throws. More serious people are actually fretting about his long-term value.

Brown’s advice to Fultz is simple: “This is not going to define you.” The coach wants Fultz to focus on everything but his jumper – defense, running the offense, getting to his spots in the pick-and-roll.

“At the end of the day, I know what I can do,” Fultz said. “My teammates know what I can do. My coaches know what I can do.”

Maybe someday soon, he’ll get to show it.

Markelle Fultz to come off bench for Sixers to start season

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If we have learned anything about the Sixers organization in the past few years, it’s that they are unwaveringly focused on the big picture. Joel Embiid needs to sit out two seasons (and most of a third), they’ll wait. Ben Simmons needs to sit out a season, they’ll wait.

So it’s no shock that the Sixers are willing to be patient with No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.

After a preseason where he only played in a few games due to shoulder and knee issues, and where he was clearly still finding his game in the ones he did play (after tweaking his free throw form on his own this offseason, and his whole shot went wonky shooting less than 30 percent in preseason), he will be coming off the bench to start the season, coach Brett Brown told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

It’s not a good sign to have a No. 1 pick that doesn’t start. It’s rare. It’s Andrea Bargnani or Anthony Bennett territory.

This feels different from those situations, however. First, he did suffer injuries in the preseason that limited him.

Moreso, Fultz was a deserving No. 1 pick, but he always had development to do — he has great skills and can do a lot of things well, but it’s another level to fit those things into an NBA game against NBA defenders. Once he figures out how, once he’s healthy and confident again, he will be a player in this league.

The Sixers are willing to wait for Fultz.

Greg Oden understands he will go down as “biggest bust in NBA history”

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When you watch Joel Embiid look like a force of nature for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, know this: That is how Greg Oden was projected coming out of college. An athletic big man who could score, defend, grab boards, and just be a force in the paint.

But Oden’s body betrayed him. He played just 82 games (one season’s worth) in the five seasons he was with the Blazers. He had seven knee surgeries, three microfracture. Some fans seemed to want to make this a personal failing of Oden’s, when in reality it was the opposite. Most people in his shoes would have given up and just lived the rest of their lives very comfortably on the millions he made off his rookie deal as the former No. 1 pick, but Oden loved the game enough to fight all the way back and make the Miami Heat roster a few years back (during their title years). Miami gave him a shot, but he just couldn’t stick (he played 26 games), his body to slowed and unable to stay healthy. He spent part of last season in China.

But Oden knows how he will be remembered, as he told ESPN’s Outside the Lines:

“I’ll be remembered as the biggest bust in NBA history,” Oden told Outside the Lines. “But I can’t do nothing about that…

“Don’t get me wrong,” Oden said. “If I was healthy, I would love to continue playing, but I’m not healthy.”

We can debate if Oden was a worse No. 1 pick than Anthony Bennett or Kwame Brown or a few others, although I would say no (because it was injuries in Oden’s case).  Part of what makes the Oden pick look bad is that the debate was him or Kevin Durant to go No. 1 that year. Obviously, Durant has gone on to be one of the great scorers the game has ever seen. It makes that debate look silly (although GMs telling us now he would have chosen Durant are lying, it was pretty much a unanimous consensus for Oden back in the day, there’s a lot of revisionist history with that draft).

Oden is currently taking classes at Ohio State to finish up his degree. Whatever is next for him, hopefully, it goes more smoothly than his NBA career.

 

Three Things We Learned Monday: DeMar DeRozan putting up 35 a game without threes

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It’s still very early in the NBA season — we’re still watching small sample size theater — but we are starting to learn some things. Here is what we learned on Sunday while deciding maybe not to hand out those last couple packets of Skittles to the little kids because damn, they are good…. 

1) DeMar DeRozan is averaging 35 points a game — and has yet to hit a three. Toronto held off Denver north of the border Monday night in a game that required 33 points from DeMar DeRozan and 29 from Kyle Lowry — the Raptors gold-medal, All-Star backcourt just keeps getting it done, and the Raptors are 2-1 (with the only loss a close one to Cleveland).

DeRozan is averaging 35 points a game through three this season and is doing it old-school — he has yet to hit a three, and he has dished out only four assists. Brook Lopez has attempted more threes than DeRozan. He’s just putting his head down and getting to his spots — and it’s working. For now. He’s shooting 53.8 percent through three games with an impressive (and career best) true shooting percentage of 59.6. Look at his shot chart and you see a guy finishing at the rim (12-of-15 inside the restricted area) and in the midrange on the right side of the court.

DeRozan shotchart

It works because most modern NBA defenses want to protect the rim, run opponents off the three-point line, and try to contest but give up the midrange. DeRozan is old school and can just beat you from there. And we do mean old-school.

Can DeRozan keep these numbers up? It’s tempting to say no on the face of it, but last season he made a three about every other game and averaged just four assists a night (he’s at 1.3 a game now) — he’s done this before. That scoring average is going to come down a little this season, but on the whole, he can likely keep this up.

At least until the playoffs start.

2) Eight players from the 2013 NBA draft got rookie contract extensions. Monday at midnight was the deadline for teams and players from the 2013 NBA Draft Class — one of the weaker classes in years — to get extensions to their rookie deals. In the end, eight did, and here are the numbers, all of them four-year deals:

C.J. McCollum (Portland): $107 million
Rudy Gobert (Utah): $102 million
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee): $100 million
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City): $100 million
Victor Oladipo (Oklahoma City): $84 million
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota): $64 million
Dennis Schroder (Atlanta): $62-70 million
Cody Zeller (Charlotte): $56 million

Best deal for the team may be the Bucks getting Antetokounmpo for a little less than the max — but to do that they did not give him (or get him to take) a fifth year. That means he’s a free agent a little sooner, something the Bucks could regret. Gobert also took a little less and could have pushed for more.

Remember, most of the guys who did not get an extension will be restricted free agents next summer — their teams have the right to match offers. Teams only are likely to lock up true cornerstone players (Antetokounmpo, Gobert, etc.) or guys they can get on what they see is a good deal (Dieng, Zeller).

The No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft was Anthony Bennett, who is getting another shot with the Nets this season but who was never in consideration for an extension (he is in consideration for worst No. 1 pick ever, which is one of many reasons Chris Grant is no longer the Cavaliers GM). The next highest pick without an extension is Otto Porter in Washington, the Wizards are wisely going to let the market set his value. Same with the Sixers and Nerlens Noel — maybe they want to keep him, but they need to see how he fits with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the rest of their young front line. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wanted more than $20 million a season from Detroit, Stan Van Gundy likes him but wisely didn’t agree to pay that. Caldwell-Pope is now playing for his payday next summer.

3) Paul Pierce as Rick James is the best NBA Halloween costume.
There is no debate — he wore it on the Clippers’ bench during the game.