Sixth Pick Tournament Round One: Trade Down vs. Anthony Bennett

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Published: May 27, 2013
Anthony Bennet & Trade Down

In the first match-up in round one of the Sixth Pick Tournament, Mason Ginsberg and Joe Gerrity face off in a battle between trading down in the draft and Anthony Bennett.

The Case for Trading Down (Ginsberg)

What a lay-up of a first round match-up this is! Arguing in favor of a very realistic possibility for the Pelicans against the guy who provides the most cause for concern out of all of the projected lottery picks in this draft. Quite simply, drafting Bennett would be a risk not at all worth taking; if deciding between him and trading down in the draft, it shouldn’t even be a question that the latter option is the optimal course of action.

There are two huge reasons why drafting Bennett would be both unreasonably risky and incredibly illogical, as he is the exact type of player who Coach Williams and the Pelicans’ front office routinely look to avoid.

  • Defense. If it was possible to convince readers in just twelve words that Anthony Bennett has no place on this Pelicans roster, Mike Prada of Bullets Forever nailed it. To describe his defense, Prada said “Bennett might be the single most unaware defensive prospect I’ve ever seen.” Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. He then exclaims, “there is nothing he does well at this end, and those shortcomings are due entirely to his effort.” If the tension between Monty and Marcus Thornton for that same reason resulted in Thornton getting traded away, it is difficult to imagine what will happen between Coach Williams and Bennett.

  • Injury history. While scouts have openly questioned the first concern, this one is something that has not come up much. It is well known that Bennett had surgery after the season to repair his torn left rotator cuff, a procedure which forced him to miss the NBA Draft Combine as well as any future individual workouts. Unfortunately for Anthony, this isn’t his first trouble with injuries. According to NBADraft.net, “His prep career was marred with injuries as he was not able to finish out either his junior or senior seasons.” Can the Pelicans really afford to draft another player who has been hurt in each of the past three years?

In a nutshell, Bennett is an injury prone power forward who gives just about no effort on the defensive end. Does that sound like a player who fits in with the Pelicans’ long term plans? The answer to that question is obviously no.

While trading down is clearly a better alternative than drafting Bennett, it’s also a very intriguing option regardless of who the option is matched up against. As of right now, there are four NBA teams with two first round picks – the Timberwolves, Thunder, Jazz, and Hawks. The Pelicans could work out a deal with any of those four teams that could put them in great position to land additional talent. Some potential trades with short explanations are listed below (all of which were deemed reasonable by the rest of the Bourbon Street Shots team).

1) New Orleans receives the 9th and 26th picks, Minnesota receives the 6th pick

Rationale: By making this deal with the Timberwolves, the Pelicans would gain a late-first round pick in exchange for moving down from 6th to 9th. If there is no player that the New Orleans is in love with, this trade is one that makes a lot of sense, as the drop-off in talent from 6 to 9 should not be terribly large.

Possible course of action: Pelicans select either Alex Len, C.J. McCollum, or Dario Saric with the 9th pick, then draft Giannis Adetokunbo or Lucas Nogueira with the 26th pick and let him stay overseas for a year.

2) New Orleans receives the 12th, 29th, & 32nd picks, Oklahoma City receives the 6th pick

Rationale: Very similar to the proposed Timberwolves trade, except that they fall three additional spots with the top two picks and gain an additional pick at the top of the second round (which is potentially more valuable than the 29th pick due to different contract rules for second round picks).

Possible course of action: Pelicans select Saric or Michael Carter-Williams with the 12th pick, Adetokunbo or Nogueira with the 29th pick to keep overseas for a year, and C.J. Leslie with the 32nd pick.

3) New Orleans receives Alec Burks, the 14th pick, & the 21st pick, Utah receives Greivis Vasquez & the 6th pick

Rationale: People may look at this deal and immediately revolt, but it should be one that the Pelicans strongly consider. New Orleans knows that Greivis isn’t the long-term answer at starting point guard and that he will probably get offered more money as a restricted free agent in 2014 than they feel he’s worth. With that in mind, this summer could very well be the ideal time to move him. The Pelicans receive two mid-first round picks in addition to a talented 21 year old 6’6” guard who was the 12th pick in the 2011 NBA draft in exchange for Vasquez and the 6th pick.

Possible course of action: Pelicans select Saric, Carter-Williams, or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the 14th pick, then Sergey Karasev or Gorgui Dieng with the 21st pick.

4) New Orleans receives the 17th, 18th, 47th, & 50th picks, Atlanta receives the 6th pick

Rationale: Monty’s head might explode if the team added four more rookies to the roster, but if this deal went down, at least one of the picks would be used on a player who would stay overseas for a year or two, and the two seconds round picks could be included in other kinds of transactions.

Possible course of action: Pelicans select Shane Larkin and Jamaal Franklin with the 17th & 18th picks, then draft Alex Abrines and Mouhammadou Jaiteh with the 47th and 50th picks (both staying overseas throughout next season).

Any one of these four trade scenarios provide not only a wiser course of action for the Pelicans, but a much more realistic plan as well, given the blatant clash between Anthony Bennett’s shortcomings and the overall team philosophy. There is simply no way that the Pelicans’ brass will overlook Bennett’s defensive apathy and propensity for getting injured. No use wasting the best arguments for trading down this early in the tournament when matched up against a player who New Orleans certainly will not draft.

The Case for Anthony Bennett (Gerrity)

ESPN Analysis had this to say about Anthony Bennett in January, prior to the effects of his injury impacting his performance–

“If he was 2 to 3 inches taller, he’d be a lock for the No. 1 spot.”

A lock. Not a contender, a lock.

Bennett is coming off a year at UNLV that most pimply college freshman can only dream of. Prior to suffering a left rotator cuff injury, which isn’t expected to affect him long term, Bennett was largely considered the top freshman in the country, and a serious contender for the number one pick. His performance in the NBA-friendly UNLV offense lead many scouts to believe that he’ll be a force at the next level as well.

He has that rare combination of athleticism, strength, length, and talent that make NBA scouts drool. Bennett may only be 6’8 in shoes, but his wingspan is well over seven feet and his body is NBA ready. He’s an outstanding rebounder of the basketball, a skill that translates immediately from college to pro ball. In a lot of ways he’s similar to Kenneth Faried, but with way more talent and potential on the offensive side of the ball.

He has a great touch from the outside for a big man, and is capable of stretching and spacing the floor. His post game is largely based on power moves, and as a result isn’t yet up to par with the rest of his offensive repertoire. But it’s improving. He should be able to score immediately against NBA level competition from both inside and out, but especially once he gets ample time to practice against better players and with superior coaching.

On the defensive end Bennett wasn’t the greatest in the world, but he’s strong, long and athletic enough where it’s hard to see him unable to fit into a well designed system, especially with a player like Anthony Davis at his side. His height is always going to be a concern when facing off against some players, but we’ve seen guys like David West and Faried succeed on the next level despite having less than ideal size. With that said, it’s a possibility that Bennett bloom into a quality defender thanks to his length and athleticism.

We can have a debate about whether or not Bennett, largely considered a power forward, fills a position of need for the Pelicans, but that’s simply not how drafting works. In the NBA (and most professional sports that I know of) GM’s rank players in tiers, and then draft from within the tier based on team needs. You don’t pass on a clearly better player just because he doesn’t play small forward. You don’t pass on a future All-Star big man just to get an adequate point guard.

Speaking of that…

Can Anthony Bennett play small forward? Maybe not all the time, maybe not even any of the time officially, but in a league increasingly being made up of tweeners and specialists, it’s not hard to see him adequately defending some small forwards and becoming a matchup nightmare for forwards of any type on the other end.

It’s not a certainty that he’ll be a lights out shooter from the outside, but it’s not at all out of the question either. As a 20 year old, he made a three pointer per game in college while shooting 32% 38%. If he can get that number up a bit he will require attention on the perimeter, opening up the middle for other Pelicans to make plays, or opening up space for himself to beat his defender or make a nice cut inside.

Here’s an example– if Davis and Bennett were on the floor against Indiana with a few seconds left and the game on the line, Frank Vogel would probably bench Roy Hibbert. There simply wouldn’t be anyone for him to guard since both bigs would be capable of getting outside and making the Pacers pay. Having options like that are invaluable for any coach, but especially a young guy like Monty Williams who is still learning and experimenting.

By now you probably have a pretty good picture of Anthony Bennett and just how good he can be. In the end, this matchup is going to come down to potential versus potential. Mason is going to talk about grabbing players late in the first round to stash in Europe for a year, or the talents that we’ll be able to grab later on in the first round which will somehow blossom into premier players in the league. He’ll probably cite a few examples of players being take late round one or two who wind up being superstars and costing their teams next to nothing.

It’s pretty much hogwash. Not all of it, but most of it. The odds are overwhelmingly against it happening. You don’t get many chances to draft in the lottery, and for a team like the Pelicans it’s extremely important that they take advantage of the opportunity to land a talented player for years to come. There’s a reason that teams want to pick earlier in the draft, and it’s not because they hate hanging out with David Stern. Players who are picked earlier tend to be better than players who are picked later. Shocking, I know. It’s like GM’s and scouts do this for a living or something.

Let’s look at one potential trade-down idea that Mason brings up. I’m only going to look at one because I’m strongly opposed to trading a sure-fire NBA player, often a star, for a few guys who are as likely to be in Europe or the D-League in three years as they are playing real minutes in the NBA. Take a look at the value of a draft pick from  82games.com if you don’t believe that the odds of getting a quality player drops off dramatically as you go down the board.

Even if you view the 6th pick in a bubble (Lady Luck hasn’t been kind to number six over the years), you’re still winding up with a star or a solid player 55% of the time. Add in the possibility of getting a role player to the mix and teams historically have an 85% chance of getting at least a usable player. It’s probably worth noting that every pick in the top five has historically had a 60% chance or better of getting a star player. The draft this year isn’t exactly as clear-cut as some have been in the past, so it’s hard to argue that the dropoff from five to six is as profound as it has been in the past.

Mason’s best and most reasonable trade down idea is probably the Pelicans #6 for Minny’s #9 and #26. The ninth pick historically gives a team a 40% chance of getting a player of star or solid quality. That’s less than 50%, according to Dr. Jason Calmes. The money saved by paying the 9th pick as opposed to the 6th pick is negligible. The 26th pick has only a 15% chance of getting a player of such quality. Even if we think the player that we have targeted is going to be available at 9, it’s still barely advantageous in practice to add the 26th pick. While I won’t dispute that there are occasionally treasures found late in the draft, it’s pretty rare to actually unearth one.

I’d like to believe that Dell Demps is a draft god, capable of turning late first rounders into franchise players, he’s yet to actually show us as much. Until he does, I’m sticking with what works historically– the higher pick, and in this case Anthony Bennett. If Bennett is available with the 6th pick, it’s not necessary to even entertain the idea of trading down. You’re getting a potential All-Star whose draft stock has dropped only as a result of injury, and not an injury that should affect his play in the future. The fact that the biggest knock on Bennett’s game is that he’s a few inches too short (yet still so long!) is telling of just how good he is elsewhere, even at such a young age.

In closing, a 3-man rotation of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Anthony Bennett could not only solidify the Pelicans front line for years to come, but give them seemingly unlimited options on the offensive end while at least maintaining respectability on the defensive side. You can trade talent for talent if it’s decided later on that we don’t need all three big men. What you can’t do is trade crap for talent, and it’s more likely that we’ll wind up with crap if we pass on Anthony Bennett in favor of players that dozens of other GM’s have already passed on.

DraftExpress Video        Anthony Bennett Workout Video       Anthony Bennett Highlights

For all Sixth Pick Tournament Matchups and the Bracket, click here.