In the final NBA draft he presided over, in 2013, David Stern, then the league’s commissioner, shocked the crowd at Barclays Center when he announced that the Cleveland Cavaliers had taken Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. A 6-foot-8 power forward who had played one year at Nevada-Las Vegas, Bennett was a surprise selection over Nerlens Noel and other top prospects.
Shortly after the pick, Bennett sat in front of the assembled members of the news media and tried to make sense of it all.
“I’m just as surprised as everyone else,” said Bennett, the first No. 1 pick from Canada.
While many people tried to justify the pick, it quickly proved to be a huge mistake. On Monday, the Brooklyn Nets announced that they had waived him after he had played 23 games for the team, averaging 5 points and 3.4 rebounds. They became the fourth team in four years to give up on Bennett, who is quickly rising on the list of biggest busts in NBA history.
Such lists are generally led by Greg Oden, Kwame Brown, LaRue Martin and Michael Olowokandi. Like Bennett, they were No. 1 picks.
The term “bust” is subjective, of course, but in terms of on-court production, Bennett is 64th in win shares among the 65 No. 1 picks since 1950 who have played in an NBA game. (Win shares is a player statistic that assigns credit for team success to individuals.) The only player with fewer win shares than Bennett’s 0.5 was Mark Workman, who was taken by Milwaukee with the first pick in 1952, when the draft was much more of a crapshoot. Contrast that with Oden, who despite his injuries managed 7.3 win shares in three partial seasons.
Bennett was not quite an unknown when he was drafted by Cleveland, as he had shown up on lists of top 10 prospects. Even so, few considered him a legitimate option at No. 1.
Since then, even among only his peers in the 2013 draft class, Bennett has stood out for a lack of performance. In terms of win shares, he ranks 39th out of the 51 players in that class who have appeared in an NBA game. While that class’s best performers have proved thus far to be Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz (22.6 win shares, taken with the 27th pick) and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (21, 15th), Bennett is outranked even by lesser-known players like Reggie Bullock (1.6, 25th), Nate Wolters (1.0, 38th) and Sergey Karasev (0.8, 19th).
Bennett is 23 and could have other chances to succeed. The argument that he is a larger bust than someone like Oden relies less on who was taken after him than his lack of production when he was on the court. Oden, infamously taken ahead of Kevin Durant, was felled by injuries, but when healthy, he was effective. Bennett, meanwhile, has found his way into 151 NBA games, 46 more than Oden, yet he has scored in double figures in only 16 games and managed 10 or more rebounds in only six.
Should nothing change, the biggest positive in drafting Bennett might be that he was one of the pieces, along with Andrew Wiggins, that the Cavaliers used to acquire Kevin Love and team him with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. So in a sense, Bennett contributed to a future championship for the Cavaliers, even if he was no longer there.