We have all seen the national media crucify Chris Grant over the past few weeks for botching his draft picks. This is not surprising when a team is losing games. We all demand a reason why our expectations are not met, and the media feel obliged to give us one. Never mind that the core of this team is a bunch of guys who are barely old enough to drink legally.
Of the six first-round draft picks that Grant has made, the one that will define his legacy and probably determine whether he still has a job in a couple of years is Anthony Bennett. Bennett was the biggest reach of the six, and he seems to have the widest degree of risk/reward variability, at least right now. Also, being the top pick in the draft, he will be dissected mercilessly if he fails to achieve his potential, and those failures will be laid squarely on Grant’s lap.
Let’s be honest. If Tyler Zeller progresses to the point where he can play 15 minutes a night without doing any damage, we will be thrilled. The 17th pick in the draft is generally a crapshoot, and if you get a player who can get rotation minutes, you call it a win. If Zeller can push the range of his jumper out to 18 feet and develop his body enough to where Dwight Howard can’t pancake him in the low post, he should be able to eventually take the minutes now being given to Anderson Varejao, which would make that pick a success.
Anyone who has read my posts has probably figured out that I have a fan crush on Sergey Karasev. If you watch him play, he has the instincts and the poise of a five-year veteran, and the form on his jumper is just about perfect. I would be stunned if Karasev isn’t starting for the Cavs in a couple of years.
Many in the media have grouped the choices of Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters with Bennett as missed picks. I admit that I was hoping for Harrison Barnes over Waiters, but there really isn’t anyone who was drafted after either of these guys who is outperforming them by a significant margin (sans Andre Drummond). Thompson looks like a guy who will average 14 points and eleven boards for the next 10 years. Not a superstar, but a guy capable of being a core part of a very good team. The instinctive parts of the game still elude him at times, and may prevent him from progressing beyond that level, but if this is what he is, it would be hard to call him a missed pick, given the choices the Cavs had at the time.
Waiters could fall anywhere between Monta Ellis and Chauncey Billups. Superficially, there is not a wide gap statistically between those two guys, but anyone who watches or looks at the records of the teams they have been on knows that Billups has been far more valuable. There are times where it looks like Waiters won’t figure it out, and there are times when it looks like he just doesn’t fit, but there is too much talent to sell low, in my opinion. Even if he turns out to be Monta Ellis, there have been a lot of No. 4 picks that have turned out worse.
We don’t have to spend a lot of time on Kyrie Irving. At this point, it is easy to say that anyone would have picked Irving, but a lot of us were saying at the time to pick Derrick Williams and then get a point guard like Brandon Knight with the fourth pick. Suffice to say that if Grant had followed that logic, we would be criticizing someone else right now.
Which leaves Bennett. On good days (maybe good possessions would be more accurate at this point) it is possible to see Bennett scoring 22 a game someday as Kyrie’s wingman and being one of the vital cogs on a team that contends for a title. On other days I can see him showing up for camp next year at about 280 pounds and being the guy that all bad draft picks are compared to for the next twenty years. If that happens, TT is the best remaining candidate for Kyrie’s wingman, and the potential of a team with Thompson as a primary weapon just isn’t that high. It may be good enough to miss the top of the lottery, but it’s not good enough to contend, to draw elite free agents or make Kyrie want to hang around past his rookie contract.
For some reason, I don’t think there is any middle ground for Bennett. The things that are holding him back right now are mental and emotional. Either he gets over those issues and unleashes his awesome physical tools, or he succumbs to them and never makes a significant contribution. I have absolutely no idea which way it will turn out, but my hunch is that if Bennett doesn’t average double figures next season, the Cavs will be a borderline playoff team, the current rebuild will be deemed a failure, and Chris Grant will lose his job.