The Pinnacle of Failure: Anthony Bennett’s Climb

Sean Sendall

NBA fans distinctly remember it:  “With the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (dramatic pause), the Cleveland Cavaliers select (another dramatic pause and Emperor Stern looking around the Barclays Center like he owns the world), Anthony Bennett…”  No sooner than the final syllable could leave Commissioner David Stern’s mouth did former ESPN analyst Bill Simmons yell, “WHOA!” on the live broadcast.

Bennett became the first Canadian born player to be selected with the top pick in the NBA draft.  His name will be forever etched in the history books for this reason, but on that fateful night in Brooklyn, his star peaked.

Earlier this week the former UNLV one-and-done power forward reached a buyout agreement with the Minnesota Timberwolves, his second team in as many seasons.  The term ‘bust’ is thrown around all too frequently, much like ‘superstar,’ but Bennett is making a strong run at an all-time NBA bust legacy.

Admittedly, the 2013 NBA draft was one of the weakest in recent history.  The Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, wasn’t selected until 11th overall and has already been traded from Philadelphia to Milwaukee.  Bennett seemed out-of-his-league from day one, however.  Given the lack of talent on Cleveland’s roster at the time, there was ample opportunity for a combo forward to see the floor and put up numbers.

In one season with Cleveland, Bennett averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, while shooting a dismal 36% from the floor.  When the Cavs had a chance to trade for Kevin Love the following year, they were more than happy to package the underachieving top pick.  His one-year stint in Minnesota was just as miserable, burying him on the bench for the upcoming season, thus leading to the recent buyout.

Legacies are not normally created in a short two years, and it’s a long climb to the summit of “Mount Bust,” but Anthony Bennett is making strides to forever be remembered as the biggest bust in NBA history.

Despite their stark contrasts, superstars and busts are remembered, debated, and discussed with equal fervor.  Superstars are remembered for their greatness; that wonderstruck feeling that they leave fans with is unforgettable.  Busts leave fans just as astonished, wondering how expectations could fall so short.  Memories are created by these feelings, which is why we can all reference the very best and the very worst to ever play.

There are levels of busts, similar to levels of superstardom, that should be laid out and defined.  Some is circumstantial, like being selected ahead of the greatest player of all-time, some is medical, some is a simple lack of talent, while others are a matter of work-ethic.  Superstars and busts are equally difficult to predict, but share the spotlight at least once, as high draft selections.  In the end, the best definition of a sports bust is someone who does not live up to expectations, rightfully so or not.  Expectations are a work of the media, fans, and organizations, not the player.

So, who is waiting for Bennett at the top?

Let’s break it down into categories:

Overrated players and Underrated Busts

Joe Smith was the top overall pick in 1995, ahead of notable players such as Kevin Garnett, Damon Stoudamire, and Rasheed Wallace, to name a few.  Coming off of a College Player of the Year season with Maryland, Smith was touted as an organization changer, a generational-type player.  Despite finishing second for Rookie of the Year, he spent his 16 year career on 12 different teams and, while not injury prone, finished his career averaging 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.  Joe Smith is overrated as a player and underrated in the bust conversation.

Danny Ferry, another player not nearly discussed enough in the bust conversation.  The dude had the cajones to play in Italy for a year because he didn’t want to play for the Clippers after being the second player selected in the 1989 draft.  He forced a trade to the Cavaliers where he just plain sucked for ten seasons.  This may be the best move the Clippers ever made and they didn’t even want to!

Underrated players and Overrated Busts

Sam Bowie, as soon as the word ‘bust’ appears in an NBA conversation everyone immediately thinks of poor Sam.  A man marred by injury throughout his ten-year career.  His biggest fault was the Portland Trailblazers blunder, selecting him second overall, just ahead of Michael Jordan.  If Jordan had not existed, Bowie would still be a bust, but not to the degree fans see him today.  A career average of 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game is serviceable and eerily similar to those of Joe Smith.  Sam Bowie is an underrated player and overrated bust.  Bust yes, but not the biggest of all-time.

Greg Oden recently declared himself one of the biggest busts in NBA history.  Yes, Greg, you are.  It also doesn’t help that the guy drafted behind you, second overall, is a transcendent player (Kevin Durant).  Oden’s story, however, is all too similar to that of other Blazers big men –he was screwed from Day One, with the Bad Luck Big Men Blazers.  He could not play due to constant injuries.  People joked that he looked 40 when he was drafted at 20; well his body treated him as though he were 40.  When healthy, which was exceedingly rare, Oden showed flashes of the defensive domination that led to him being the top pick.  Unfortunately, when you play 105 games in three seasons over six years as the projected best player in the draft, you will be labeled a bust.

The players who just plain Sucked

Kwame Brown was Owner/General Manager Michael Jordan’s first of many busts.  The top overall pick in 2001 could not handle the rigors of jumping from high school to the NBA and never matured over his 12 year career.  Kwame could still try and come back, having last played for the Sixers in 2012-13, but his career averages are a lowly 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

LaRue Martin is one of the original busts.  He was also the original Blazer big man to be hit with injuries. As the top overall pick in 1972 his injuries, combined with a lack of talent, led to a career of just four seasons.

Darko Milicic was selected after LeBron James and before Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.  If that weren’t difficult enough to overcome, he just didn’t have enough talent for the NBA.  On his best season, he averaged 7.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game

Adam Morrison.  That is a statement unto itself.  Morrison’s only defense is having been the lowest pick of this hallowed group of busts; he was selected third overall.

Michael Olowokandi the top overall pick by the Clippers only lasted five seasons in Los Angeles and two were serviceable, at best. Career averages over his nine years sit at 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game

Hasheem Thabeet was the second pick in the 2009 draft and has amassed astonishing career averages of 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.

The final group is comprised of the Keepers of the Flame that is “immortal bust,” while the former two groups are simply the Sherpas leading Bennett to territory rarely traveled.  Anthony Bennett is still climbing and has ample time to remedy a career currently derailed, but he will need to back down his current path carefully.  Any additional misstep for the young forward will lead to his name being etched at the summit with other unforgettable NBA busts.

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