The 2013 NBA Draft was one of the oddest in memory. There was a shocking No. 1 overall pick in a class that has produced 3 All-Stars and many questions.
When looking back at the 2013 NBA Draft, the simplest pitfall is to look at today’s style of play and wonder what the heck teams were thinking when they made some of those picks.
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But although this draft is just seven years in the past, the NBA was at a very different place. The move to position-less basketball played from the outside in was still in its infancy and had not been embraced in all quarters.
So while there was great value in stretchy bigs with range, there was still an emphasis on players who appeared to fit more traditional roles.
It was a notable draft in that it was the last overseen by the late David Stern as NBA commissioner.
There was no clear-cut No. 1 overall pick in 2013, particularly not after much-hyped Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel ripped up a knee in a mid-February game against Florida and would be sidelined for at least some (as it turned out, all) of his rookie season.
According to Jacob Rosen of Waiting for Next Year on June 26, 2013, of 40 mock drafts he tracked, there were four players trending at the No. 1 spot. Those four were Noel (No. 1 in 21 of those mocks), Alex Len (13), Otto Porter (four) and Ben McLemore (two).
But the Cleveland Cavaliers, selecting No. 1 overall for the second time in three years — having taken Duke’s Kyrie Irving No. 1 in 2011 — threw everyone a massive curveball at the top of the draft by selecting UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett with the first pick.
It wasn’t as if the Canadian had a bad season at UNLV, which went 25-10 and received a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing to California in what was then the second round (let’s just call it the Round of 64, shall we?)
And Bennett, a 6’8″, 240-pounder who had played at Findlay College Prep in the Las Vegas area and had been ranked as the No. 6 recruit in the country in 2012, according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, wasn’t an unknown to be sure.
But three of the five players ranked ahead of him on that list also declared for the 2013 draft, including both of the players tied at No. 1, Noel and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, as well as New Zealander Steven Adams, who played a single season at Pitt and was fifth on the list. The two players tied at No. 3 — Isaiah Austin of Baylor and Kyle Anderson of UCLA — returned to school.
As history tells us, Bennett was not a great No. 1 overall pick.
His career tracks with players who were underwhelming at best as first-round picks in general, much less at No. 1 overall, a pair of non-immortals that includes Anthony Cook (24th overall in 1989) and Mark Randall (26th overall in 1991), according to Basketball-Reference.com’s similarity scores.
Of the 60 players selected the night of June 27, 2013, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, 26 are currently on NBA rosters and another 25 have played in the Association. Nine players have not played in the league, including 28th overall pick Livio Jean-Charles. He was taken by the San Antonio Spurs and signed in 2016, but was cut late in the preseason.
On the other end of the spectrum, 15 undrafted players from 2013 have played at least one NBA game and another 31 have signed NBA contracts, per RealGM.
So as we track through the selections from 2013, we’ll include what actually happened with the 30 first-round choices and what would be different this time around — with the caveat that we’re not drafting for the NBA of 2019-20 (at least what it was before the suspension of play), but rather trying to account for conventional scouting wisdom and play style circa 2013.
And with the first pick in the historical 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select …
Actual selection: Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
So this opens up one of the greatest “what-if” scenarios of all time. Based on what we know now, it’s a no-brainer that Giannis Antetokounmpo would be the runaway No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. But at the time, he was a 6’9″, 190 lbs unknown who had never played at an elite level, playing the 2012-13 season with Filathitikos, a second-division club in Greece.
So would we have seen a different-but-same scenario the next summer in which the Cavaliers traded the 2014 No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, with Antetokounmpo to the Minnesota Timberwolves in order to get Kevin Love and facilitate putting an experienced contender around reacquired free agent LeBron James?
Bennett was a bust — it’s safe to say that now, even if my lingering question will be how his career could have turned out had he not had the albatross of that No. 1 selection hanging around his neck. He played one season in Cleveland, one in Minnesota, less than one with the Toronto Raptors after the Wolves cut him and had a brief stint with the Brooklyn Nets.
Bennett did not play in 2019-20 after being cut by the Houston Rockets in early October and had toiled in the G League each of the previous two seasons.
Antetokounmpo? Some may be familiar with the story of the player chosen 15th overall in 2013.
He became the first player to ever pull off the Most Improved Player/NBA MVP double, winning the first in 2016-17 and the big trophy in 2018-19. He’s also a three-time All-NBA player and a two-time All-Defensive pick and, as the wisdom of today holds, if he can develop a jumper, he might actually become a good player.