The 2013 NBA Draft was held in Brooklyn New York. It was a draft in which the Cleveland Cavaliers, without LeBron James, were abysmal and had the number one pick. No one on the board excited them. If they had a do-over they would have drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo who was selected 15th. (But so would Orlando, Washington, Charlotte, Phoenix, New Orleans, Detroit, Minnesota, Portland….the list goes on and on).
Half the league missed on Antetokounmpo. Of the teams that passed, Phoenix and Sacramento haven’t been to the playoffs in the eight years Antetokounmpo has been a pro. Of the 14 players who were drafted before Antetokounmpo, only one, Victor Oladipo, has been an All-Star, and only one, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is an NBA champion. But on the glass is half full side, only Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad were not on an NBA roster last season.
The 2013 draft is the definition of feast and famine. Anthony Bennett was the number one pick and is out of the league, and Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t a lottery pick, and is a two-time MVP who earned a supermax contract.
Before the draft, Cleveland management voted 9-1 to draft Anthony Bennett. The defector, Chris Grant, liked Kansas scorer Ben McLemore. Bennett would struggle right out the gate. His work ethic wasn’t NBA caliber, he was fat, and suffered from sleep apnea. Plus, there was that thing about being taken number one. It was pressure. You had to prove to a skeptical post-LeBron fanbase that you were worthy of being drafted the same position as hero LeBron.
Bennett wasn’t mentally tough for what he was being asked to do. He had flashes here and there but mostly he was a very young player who was out of shape and oh-yeah, his career started off with a whimper: he missed his first sixteen shots. Cavs fans were miserable and mocking as they watched his big body try to hustle and then score his first points… in the fifth game. He was booed and the relationship only got worse.
“The problem with Anthony was, and we had no way of knowing it at the time, the kid had no desire to overcome adversity whatsoever. As soon as it was hard, he was out” said David Griffin, Cavs GM.
400 miles from Cleveland, hard work was on the agenda. In 2012-13, the Milwaukee Bucks won 38 games, coached by Scott Skiles, who was fired after 32 games, and then Jim Boylan finished the season. The Bucks hired Larry Drew and were even worse with the rookie Giannis. They won 15 games.
Giannis’ rookie year he mostly came off the bench and played 24 minutes but when you watched him run the floor you knew the potential. Plus, he was long, like his arms could stretch from Wisconsin to Minnesota and then back again. He didn’t shoot much and only averaged 6 points but there was something about him when he was on the court that was watchable. He had charisma and if he only learned how to play the NBA game, the Bucks would have something special.
Coached by Jason Kidd the following year, Giannis played 30 minutes, upped his shooting percentage to 49%, was a defender of epic proportions, and the Bucks were in the playoffs. Anthony Bennett, though, was at home.
Traded by the Cavs to Minnesota, Bennett’s second year was not that much different from his first. He scored 20 points once and 9 points or less 49 times. In the last game of the season, he played 21 minutes and scored 9 points. It was his Minnesota goodbye. He would then play 19 games with Toronto, and a year after, 23 games with the Nets. Then the G-league.
Four years was all it took for the number one pick to flame out.
Four years was all it took for Giannis Antetokounmpo to become an All-Star. In his first MVP season (2018-19), Antetokounmpo averaged 28 points and 13 rebounds. The following year, he won the MVP and averaged 30 points and 11 rebounds. A generous market economy has rewarded Antetokounmpo with $51 million dollars in 2025-26, more than 3 times the amount of money Anthony Bennett made in any given year. By the time his supermax contract concludes, Giannis will have made 20 times more than Anthony Bennett.
Optimistically, Giannis has faith in an organization that is unproven. In Miami, Pat Riley has delivered championships and superstars. In Oakland, Bob Myers has delivered championships and superstars. In Milwaukee, they still cling to Fear the Deer and Lew Alcindor tapes. Although Giannis could have put more pressure on the Bucks to improve and waited until after the season to sign the extension, he wanted to be in Milwaukee all along. He is Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. One city. One team. I don’t’ want a trade. (All three were raised outside the United States.)
Considering everything that was at stake, the Bucks bungled their offseason. They needed to hire a coach who is proven in the playoffs and who has won titles. They didn’t fortify their bench with a 3-point specialist. They don’t stack up in-depth with the Lakers and although Jrue Holiday checks the toughness box, he’s only played 30 playoff games and advanced to the second round once. Holiday is used to not being in the playoffs. Out of 11 seasons, he was in the playoffs 4 times. So he’s hardly Mr. Playoff Experience.
While Khris Middleton gets a lot of abuse when he underperforms, Giannis is somehow immune to criticism, even as his game has deficiencies. Away from the rim, he is mediocre. He can’t match Anthony Davis’s three-point efficiency which stretches the floor. Giannis only made 34% of his jumpers last season. He took 75 threes in the 4th quarter and made 26% of them. He took 629 free throws and made 389 (63%). Since he is a high usage player, 37.5%, he has to knock down free throws.
Now that he has broken the hearts of fans in Golden State and Miami, Giannis and the Bucks have the patience to build the right way. They are still one 3-point shooter away from dominating the East and a better coach will pay dividends. Nevertheless, they’ll finish in the top 3-spot in the Conference and try to finish what they started when they drafted Giannis 7 years ago.