After the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked Barclays Center by selecting UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the stage was set for a pretty significant shake-up in the lottery. With the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards staying true to projections by taking Indiana guard Victor Oladipo and Georgetown forward Otto Porter, that meant three players once considered favorites to go first overall — Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, Maryland's Alex Len and Ben McLemore of Kansas — had fallen into the Charlotte Bobcats' laps. After suffering the cruel Draft Lottery fate of dropping to the fourth pick despite finishing 2012-13 with the NBA's second-worst record, Michael Jordan, Rich Cho, Steve Clifford and company had their choice of (arguably) the top three prospects in the whole draft.
Naturally, they went in another direction, tabbing Oladipo's Hoosier teammate Cody Zeller with the No. 4 pick. The Bobcats backers assembled at the team's official draft party didn't really dig that.
Oh, "THAT'S A GOOD PICK!" guy. You're my favorite.
With several more highly regarded prospects still on the board, you can understand 'Cats fans being less than stoked at the selection, especially considering many mock drafts projected the Indiana standout to go somewhere in the late lottery — both DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony and ESPN Insider's Chad Ford, for example, had Zeller headed to the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 10. Still, the response — lusty boos, people straight-up leaving the event, dudes angrily shaking their fists and hats at a giant projection screen — seems a bit outsized for a 7-foot, 240-pound athlete whom Y! colleague Jeff Eisenberg of The Dagger says "has the talent to make this look like a savvy gamble someday," "runs the floor better than any big man in the draft and [is] a better face-up player than he showed in college."
Despite that "he's not a stiff" assessment, you can understand Bobcats fans still stinging at draft errors committed by past regimes — taking Raymond Felton and Sean May in a 2005 draft that allowed Danny Granger to sit until the 17th pick; Adam Morrison over Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, et. al., in 2006; Brandan Wright over Joakim Noah in '07; D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez in '08; Gerald Henderson over Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson in '09; etc. — being very, very skeptical about a pick that not only seems to fly in the face of draft value and conventional wisdom, but also appears to stand as a very clear and specific inflection point in the tenure of the team's current leadership. As Ben Swanson of Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire wrote, "I'm still not sure how well this pick will turn out, but taking Zeller with Noel, Len and McLemore still on the board could write Rich Cho and this organization's future, for better or for worse."
In that sense, then, Zeller stands as arguably the most important player the Bobcats have, as presently constituted, although he demurred from any "franchise player" talkin his postgame press conference on Thursday.
"I'm not worried about the title of 'franchise guy' or anything," he said. "I'm going to come in and try to be the hardest-working guy, is what I'm going to try to be. Hopefully, the other guys there will follow my lead — or I'll join them. If it's a good group of hard-working guys, then the team is going to start winning."
An influx of W's could go a long way toward turning those boos into cheers. But if Zeller looks like a lesser light and likes of Noel, Len and McLemore start lighting it up on their respective teams, Cody and his compadres could be in for an awful lot more where this came from.