Did Cavs make mistake by taking Bennett at No. 1?
Did the Cavaliers make a mistake taking Anthony Bennett at No. 1? Who would you have picked if you were Cleveland?
-- Gary M., Columbus, Ohio
I appreciate both ends of your question, Gary, because the first part can't be answered without the second part. Can you ever recall a worse opening month for any rookie class? It's hard to fathom a less productive group than this one. Half of the top 10 picks have provided next to nothing: No. 3 pick Otto Porter of Washington, No. 6 Nerlens Noel of Philadelphia and No. 10 C.J. McCollum of Portland have yet to play a minute, while No. 5 Alex Len of Phoenix and No. 9 Trey Burke of Utah have missed 25 games between them.
No. 2 pick Victor Oladipo of Orlando is a promising, high-energy guard, but is nonetheless tied for second in the league with 3.8 turnovers. No. 4 pick Cody Zeller is the eighth-leading scorer for Charlotte while shooting just 34 percent inside the three-point line.
But Bennett's start is the most disappointing of all. He missed his first 16 shots as a Cavalier, and had one field goal in his opening seven games. Bennett, a burly 6-foot-8 power forward, underwent shoulder surgery last May, has been diagnosed with asthma and sleep apnea, and weighs more than he did as the Mountain West Player of the Year as a UNLV freshman. He is the Cavs' No. 13 scorer with 2.2 points in 11.4 minutes per game, he's shooting 16.7 percent (3-of-18) from the three-point line and 22.4 percent overall. He's totaled almost as many turnovers (10) as field goals (11), and Cleveland fans are booing him already.
Bennett has to be deflated by the early results. But it's far too early to write him off, and there isn't an overwhelming alternative who should have been taken in his place.
When you look back at unsuccessful No. 1 picks of previous eras, there have always been obvious alternatives. The Wizards chose Kwame Brown No. 1 in 2001, but in hindsight they would have been much better served by Pau Gasol (who went No. 3), Joe Johnson (10), Zach Randolph (19) or Tony Parker (28). Top pick Michael Olowokandi was outplayed by fellow 1998 draftees Dirk Nowitzki (9), Paul Pierce (10) and Vince Carter (3).
The Trail Blazers wish they had picked Kevin Durant (2) ahead of Greg Oden in 2007, just as they regretted choosing LaRue Martin No. 1 in 1972 after they were unable to come to terms with Bob McAdoo, who would be league MVP in his third season with the Buffalo Braves. (Then there was the regrettable preference of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, though that happened with the No. 2 pick in 1984.)
Bernard King, Cedric Maxwell, Walter Davis, Marques Johnson and Otis Birdsong all deserved to be picked ahead of No. 1 Kent Benson in 1977. The situation was similar in 1989 when Shawn Kemp, Tim Hardaway, Vlade Divac and Glen Rice were picked behind No. 1 Pervis Ellison.
The 2013 draft was hard to gauge in the walk-up, and now -- about one-fifth of the way into these players' rookie seasons -- we still can't make sense of it. The most productive rookies who have played at least half of their team's games were all picked outside the top 10: Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams (11), Oklahoma City's Steven Adams (12), Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (15), Brooklyn's Mason Plumlee (22), New York's Tim Hardaway Jr. (24), Milwaukee's Nate Wolters (38) and Boston's Vitor Faverani (undrafted) have outplayed everyone in the top 10 save Oladipo.
The fans in Cleveland need to take it easy on Bennett if they want him to turn into a productive contributor. It wasn't Bennett's fault that he was picked No. 1. In most years, he wouldn't even be in contention for the honor. And even now, it's hard to name with conviction another rookie the Cavaliers should have chosen instead.
With Paul Pierce out 2-4 weeks and the team struggling and injured, do you think the Nets are going to dig too big of a hole to crawl out of?
-- Mike, New Jersey
Pierce was shooting 36.8 percent and contributing only 12.4 points for the Nets with almost as many turnovers as assists. He isn't the reason they've been losing, but he wasn't playing as if he was the answer to their problems either.
What is becoming clear is that the Nets need Deron Williams to come back at close to full health. He's 29 and is looking like their best hope for turning things around. Fortunately for his team, the Nets picked a good year to be awful. At 5-12 through Monday, they were 1½ games out of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, which belongs to 6-10 Toronto, the unworthy leader of the Atlantic Division.
What is wrong with the Knicks?
Will the Knicks part ways with Carmelo Anthony if they finish near the bottom of the East?
-- Mike P., Queens, N.Y.
He may leave as a free agent, Mike. But I don't see them dumping their only star. If he is gone, then they'll have no reliable scorer on their roster next season and no means to replace him until 2015, when they'll have cap space. And the last time they had cap space, they had no clue for how to spend it. They need to keep him in hopes that his presence will help draw another star to play with him in 2015.
Who has been the most impressive first-year head coach so far?
-- Trent, Chicago
The clear early winner is Jeff Hornacek, who has the 9-8 Suns sprinting for more easy baskets and victories than anyone could have thought possible. But there have been a number of other promising starts, as Philadelphia's Brett Brown, Charlotte's Steve Clifford, Denver's Brian Shaw, the Clippers' Doc Rivers, Boston's Brad Stevens and Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer have all performed well under a variety of circumstances.
Is J.J. Redick the most indispensable role player in the league? If not, who do you think?
-- Stan, Encino, Calif.
The Clippers aren't going to find it easy to live without Redick, who is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a broken right hand. He was a poor man's Ray Allen with his ability to move without the ball and was providing 15.8 points per game.
But Redick isn't the only player of that standard. Lance Stephenson would be hard to replace for the Pacers, whether or not Danny Granger is back in the rotation. Mario Chalmers has been crucial to the Heat during the last two postseasons. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews have helped fuel the Blazers to their 15-3 start, while the Rockets could not do without Chandler Parsons. Are Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka and San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard role players? If so, then they may be more important than any of them.